No stimulus money for $15 billion O'Hare expansion
A $15 billion project to expand one the nation's busiest airports will not receive federal stimulus money because it does not qualify under criteria drawn up by the Obama administration, Chicago officials said Monday.
That word came as city and state leaders gathered at O'Hare International Airport to announce that two separate projects, one to repave an existing runway and another to widen a taxiway, would receive $12 million in stimulus money.
Asked at an airport news conference if he was disappointed O'Hare got a relatively small amount of money -- compared to typically massive cash injections for airport projects -- Chicago Mayor Richard Daley said, "It's better than nothing."
"People talk about a billion, trillion, but $12 million is a lot of money," Daley said. "We're very grateful."
After President Barack Obama signed the $787 billion federal stimulus bill last month, Chicago officials overseeing the multibillion O'Hare expansion said they hoped the project would get a cut of $1.1 billion set aside for airports.
During a trip to Washington, D.C. last month, Daley also said he hoped federal stimulus funds could help cover a $50 million shortfall in the project to expand O'Hare -- a vital global hub.
But more detailed funding guidelines drawn up by the Federal Aviation Administration after the stimulus bill became law have excluded the possibility of such expansion projects receiving any money, Rosemarie Andolino, the city's aviation commissioner and the director of the expansion project, said Monday.
One of the criteria, for example, is that planned projects cannot depend on airport-generated revenue -- something the expansion project relies on heavily, Andolino said.
The two projects that will split the stimulus funds are not part of expansion plans. Nearly $7 million will go to widen and reposition Taxiway M, and $5.5 million will go toward repaving Runway 10/28 -- the airport's busiest landing strip.
Funding the improvements of the runway and taxiway would fulfill the objectives of the federal stimulus, including by creating an estimated 75 jobs, said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, who also attended Monday's announcement at O'Hare.
The Illinois Democrat also took issue with anyone who pooh-poohed the money allocated to O'Hare.
"When I listen to people say, 'It's only $12 million,' my reminder to you is before President Obama passed this legislation, it was zero," he said. "The idea is put $12 million more into the economy here, more into jobs."
As part of a first phase of the expansion project, O'Hare inaugurated a $450 million runway in November -- its first new runway in nearly 40 years.
But the airport hasn't secured funding for a second phase of expansion, which includes another new runway and terminal at O'Hare by 2014, and there were hopes at least some stimulus money could help foot the multibillion-dollar bill.
The city will look to other sources to fill any shortfall, and officials are still in negotiations with cash-strapped airlines to secure money for the second phase, Andolino said.
"Not receiving the $50 million or any amount of money, it will just be funded under our traditional methods of funding airport construction projects, which would be general airport revenue-backed bonds," she said.
She added that, despite the funding challenges, she was confident the expansion project would be completed by 2014.