'Game plan still in place': Suburbs adjust to new airport chief

She herded goats, politicians and airlines, but the suburbs around O'Hare will best remember Chicago Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans for efforts to mitigate jet noise, provide western access and build a ring road around the airport.

Evans resigned Tuesday but will stay through Aug. 1 to provide a smooth transition for incoming Commissioner Jamie Rhee, an attorney and Chicago's chief of procurement.

The announcement broke the same day the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission started planning a long-term overnight runway rotation strategy to distribute plane noise around the region later in 2021. Evans played a central role in earlier groundbreaking nighttime runway rotations, including one short-term proposal being reviewed by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Asked if work on those projects would continue, noise commission Chairwoman and Mount Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek said "absolutely" Wednesday. She praised Evans for bringing "a respect and support for the role of the ONCC and a respect for the concerns of those impacted by noise."

DePaul University transportation Professor Joseph Schwieterman said the rotation effort emanates directly from Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office, "so I wouldn't expect major changes to it. However, a leadership change almost always brings shifting priorities. With O'Hare, there are always surprises."

Emanuel described Evans' work as "herculean," in particular on securing a lease deal with American and United airlines that included approval for a $8.7 billion O'Hare makeover with a new international terminal in place of Terminal 2.

The hardball negotiations also allow for a gradual, demand-driven evolution to a western terminal long sought by DuPage County.

DuPage Chairman Dan Cronin anticipates no interruptions in that plan.

"I believe the game plan is in place," Cronin said. "Aviation commissioners will come and go, but western access is coming to fruition."

Bensenville leaders were disappointed the western terminal likely won't materialize until 2024, but Village Manager Evan Summers said Wednesday "we are appreciative of Ginger Evans' leadership, particularly throughout the O'Hare modernization and lease negotiations.

"We look forward to continuing that partnership with Jamie Rhee as we work together to develop and enhance policies that will serve as a catalyst for ongoing economic development."

Cronin also credited Evans for working out a deal with the Illinois tollway in 2016, selling land on O'Hare's western edge that will allow it to build a ring road (I-490) connecting with Route 390, the Tri-State and Jane Addams tollways.

Evans began her job in June 2015 and oversaw the addition of gates and completion of two runways, which marked a shift in noise patterns and caused a pushback from residents that ultimately led to the rotation plan.

Her tenure included an uproar over the dragging of a passenger from an American Airlines flight by aviation security officers and a close call when an engine ignited on a jetliner prior to takeoff. On the lighter side, Evans continued a program using a herd of goats to crop grassy areas of the airfield. Last week, a deal with Tesla's Elon Musk to build a 12-minute express train between the Loop and O'Hare was announced.

"Ginger Evans' achievements will be felt for a long time," Schwieterman said.

Rhee has worked in various capacities for the aviation department. "This is a tremendous opportunity to continue the work that we have done," she said.

Although closely allied with Emanuel, Evans had received criticism from aldermen over issues such as complaints of foul smells coming from windows used for soundproofing and the dragging occurrence.

DuPage's Cronin described Evans as tough, professional and "very responsive to our issues at the county."

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