Plans for western O'Hare access show people-mover, screening - but when?

So, does Chicago's makeover of O'Hare mean suburban drivers can cruise east on Route 390 into the west side of the airport, hop on a train and catch a flight?

Not anytime soon, but eventually yes - according to a 2,263-page document that puts flesh on the bones of western access and confirms the city is planning a facility on the west side of O'Hare that can accommodate passengers, offer security screening and provide a people-mover to other terminals.

But don't expect that kind of access when the initial phase of the project dubbed O'Hare 21 wraps up around 2026.

The first step is for the Illinois tollway to finish constructing the Route 390 extension. The toll road will reach O'Hare's western gates by 2024.

Next, a parking lot and a screening facility along with a bus station will be built at the new western entrance - but it's just for airport employees initially, the city's plan states.

However, Phase 2 of the project would allow passengers to access parking and be processed at the screening facility. Fast forward to the final stage, and plans describe a western parking and security screening facility for passengers along with an automated people-mover. To accommodate the people-mover, a tunnel would be built allowing for pedestrian access and baggage.

The underground people-mover would take passengers coming in on Route 390 to the main terminals, as well as satellite concourses nearby served by a variety of airlines.

When? The city says the transition to public use will be dictated by "future demand" and could be years down the road. The painstakingly long process vindicates Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson, a longtime skeptic about promises of western access and a western terminal at O'Hare International Airport in the 1990s and 2000s.

But after years of "being vilified, chastised and demeaned," Johnson is upbeat about the future of western access and a western terminal, one reason being that "Chicago is being very honest with us," the mayor said.

Chicago's plan is expected to be approved by the city council March 28.

"Building the massive parking lot for employees creates a new gateway to the DuPage side of the airport," DePaul University aviation professor Joseph Schwieterman said. "That said, it looks like the western access terminal won't be part of the mix for a least another decade."

Big picture, the most significant aspects of O'Hare 21 are renovating Terminal 5 and transforming outdated Terminal 2 from an ugly duckling to a swan with Customs and Border Protection screening to handle international flights. Gates should increase from 185 to about 220.

Johnson thinks the additional gates will ease aircraft backups at O'Hare, thereby reducing jet noise. Likewise the extension of a runway by 3,593 feet on the north airfield expected to be completed in 2021 will "give (the city) the capacity to distribute flights more evenly around the airport," he said. "Everyone will benefit from that."

One more thing

Here's what other stakeholders are saying about O'Hare 21:

"People at first were concerned the terminal wasn't right there," DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin said. But he believes in the phased-in approach. "First, we have to straighten the runways, then expand within the existing footprint of the terminals, then create infrastructure like the tunnel. It will lead to western access ... I have no doubt."

And, O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission Chairwoman Arlene Juracek thinks "the economic activity this will bring is certainly welcome. The newly announced improvements to O'Hare are less of an influence on noise than is the actual runway layout and utilization."

However, Dan Dwyer of the Fair Allocation in Runways noise watchdog group said "we now know the real reason Runway 15/33 is being decommissioned ... is for yet even more expansion of the airport and noise."

Runway 15/33 is a diagonal northwest runway set to be shut down on March 29.

Finally, Elmhurst Alderman Bob Dunn noted that 120 Elmhurst residents work at O'Hare and five times that have airport-related jobs.

"This expansion will be good for Elmhurst and the entire region. The noise issues, however, will need to be managed carefully," Dunn said.

Got an opinion on O'Hare expansion? Send an email to

You should know

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O'Hare's underwhelming Terminal 2 will be expanded and offer Customs and Border Protection screening so it can handle international flights, as part of the Chicago 21 plan. Daily Herald File Photo
Thorndale Avenue ends at a "T" intersection with York Road at the western edge of O'Hare International Airport. But by 2024, the road will be rebuilt as part of the extension of Route 390 into O'Hare. Daily Herald File Photo
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