Chicago Executive drops talk of runway expansion

Amid mounting opposition from residents, local leaders and even a state lawmaker, Chicago Executive Airport officials announced late Friday afternoon they will eliminate any consideration of runway expansion beyond current airport boundaries.

The prospect of extending the runway was raised as part of the airport's ongoing work to update its master plan, a Federal Aviation Administration-required document that assesses airport needs and improvements over the next 20 or more years.

Although airport officials never formally proposed runway expansion, the discussion generated objections from airport neighbors as well as leaders in surrounding villages. Voters in Wheeling, which co-owns the airport with Prospect Heights, will weigh in, in an advisory referendum April 2, on whether the village board should formally support or oppose an expansion.

Prospect Heights Mayor Nick Helmer said he and Wheeling Mayor Pat Horcher had directed the CEA to drop any study of expansion beyond current boundaries.

"They weren't too pleased because they've been working on this a long time," said Helmer, who was on the airport board 14 years and has been mayor for eight.

"Why spend time and money on something that can't be done?" he said, pointing to the impracticality and expense of crossing major roads and relocating residents to lengthen the runway.

Horcher said no one on either towns' board supported the consideration of expanded boundaries, but people had whipped up unwarranted fears over something that was never likely to happen. "Why let the angst fester if there's no interest in either community?"

Mount Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek welcomed the news.

Based on her experience as chairman of the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission, she said she expected the study would eventually reject the idea of extending the airport's boundaries but she's glad to have it happen now. She gave credit to village residents who made their fears heard.

Airport officials defended their initial approach, saying the master plan update - Chicago Executive's first since 1986 - was intended to begin with "unconstrained ideas about potential changes at the airport," which are then evaluated with input from local leaders, residents and others.

That process left an incorrect impression that the airport's only plan was to extend its runways, CEA board Chairman Court Harris said in Friday's announcement.

"This is not the case," he said. "This study considers a wide assortment of scenarios for possible changes to the airport's layout and operations, which are analyzed in order to get the maximum value from the update and to achieve a result that will provide a vision for the coming decades."

Critics of a potential runway extension included Juracek, several Wheeling village trustees and state Rep. Jonathan Carroll.

While runway expansion is out, the master plan process will continue. The airport will host an open house on the plan July 11 at the Ramada Plaza, 1090 S. Milwaukee Ave. in Wheeling.

"The airport leadership team is committed to the successful completion of the master plan and remains excited about exploring options for maximizing capacity to serve its users with greater effectiveness and efficiency, including reconfiguration of runways within the physical footprint of the airport," CEA Executive Director Jamie Abbott said.

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