Will five extra gates at O'Hare International Airport revolutionize flight operations, generate billions of dollars and end the dreaded "folks, we're going to have to sit tight while we wait for a gate to open up" announcement?
Maybe not, but the addition is a step in the right direction, aviation officials said Friday, hailing the first new gates at O'Hare in 25 years.
The recipient was American Airlines, which now owns 71 of 191 gates at the airport. The $78 million investment by the airline is located in Terminal 3 and is the precursor to a massive $8.5 billion redo of O'Hare that includes more gates to come.
Here are some take-aways from last week's big reveal:
• A dent in delays. In 2017, O'Hare ranked 14th out of 30 major American airports for on-time arrivals, with a rate of 80.8 percent. That's actually a big improvement from 2014 when the airport fell to the bottom. "Some of our delays are related to being gate-constrained, especially when we have bad weather," American Airlines spokeswoman Leslie Scott said. "When we can't have airplanes take off, they're sitting at the gates, so the ones landing have nowhere to go. So having additional gates will definitely help that."
• More destinations. The four gates will handle American Airlines' fleet of regional jets, which will free up gate space elsewhere. "Our plan is to utilize these gates to grow our flight schedule," American Vice President of Hub Operations Franco Tedeschi said. Ten new destinations are planned including Venice, Calgary, Vancouver, Honolulu, Grand Cayman and Aruba.
• Friendly skies. American rained on Chicago's parade in February when the carrier balked at signing a deal with the city and United Airlines over the $8.5 billion expansion. The reason? American thought United got a secret deal on extra gates. The fracas was smoothed over in March with Chicago promising to expedite construction of three general-use gates. Mayor Rahm Emanuel quipped he'd had doubts he'd be sharing a podium with American CEO Doug Parker a month ago. Parker riposted he was confident "we'd be here ... I knew the mayor would come to his senses."
• Additional growth. Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans promised continued growth in terms of infrastructure and flights. "This year alone we have announced 15 new international flights at O'Hare. We are stressing the facilities. We are doing it on purpose. We have to build the revenue we need to generate that new generation of growth for O'Hare," Evans said.
It took 20 months to build the area where the new gates are located. Dubbed the L-Stinger, the area spins off the L Concourse. Gates L20 through L24 are reached by a series of luminescent hallways that look stylish but are a bit of a haul if you're running late. The ribbon-cutting was Friday but the gates had been operating for about a week in advance. Coming next? A new American hangar later this year.
As for the unusual name, it's a design term that came from the project's architects, who said calling it an extension wasn't technically accurate, Scott said.
Attention Huskies: The Illinois tollway last week opened one ramp connecting Annie Glidden Road to the westbound Reagan Memorial Tollway, located near Northern Illinois University, but more construction is coming. Three other interchange ramps will close this week. Work to replace pavement and reconstruct the interchange will last through the summer.
Reader Chuck Bennet yields for pedestrians at crosswalks. He notes "most of those crosswalks are in areas with low speed limits and the ability to stop is vastly improved. However, a crosswalk on Central Road with a 40 mph speed limit makes no sense. Flashing YELLOW lights say to motorists -- slow down, proceed with caution. They do not think STOP. In my opinion the simple solution to this is to leave the yellow lights there, but as soon as someone pushes the button for the lights, a flashing RED light would be activated to warn motorists that they have to stop to allow someone to cross."
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One more thing
DePaul University's transportation experts are pivoting to matchmaking. The university's Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development is out with a study that recommends the Chicago Transit Authority get together with ride-providers such as Uber or Lyft to serve riders during off-peak hours. For example, bus service is skeletal at 1:30 a.m. on weekdays, the report finds. Chaddick researchers recommend integrating ride-provider info with the CTA's Ventra app and that ride-providers consider offering discounts to passengers heading to trains and bus stops at slow times. To learn more, go to resources.depaul.edu.