10 years, $6 billion later, controversial O'Hare Modernization Program is wrapping up

  • The north airfield air traffic control tower is flanked by jets at a Chicago event marking the completion of the O'Hare Modernization Program.

    The north airfield air traffic control tower is flanked by jets at a Chicago event marking the completion of the O'Hare Modernization Program. Marni Pyke | Staff Photographer

  • The Chicago Department of Aviation along with federal lawmakers and local officials Thursday marked the finale of a controversial and game-changing project to build six parallel runways at O'Hare International Airport.

    The Chicago Department of Aviation along with federal lawmakers and local officials Thursday marked the finale of a controversial and game-changing project to build six parallel runways at O'Hare International Airport. Daily Herald File Photo

  • Bensenville Village Manager Evan Summers listens at a Chicago event marking the completion of the O'Hare Modernization Program.

    Bensenville Village Manager Evan Summers listens at a Chicago event marking the completion of the O'Hare Modernization Program. Marni Pyke | Staff Photographer

  • Sen. Dick Durbin takes the podium as Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot leaves during a Chicago event marking the completion of the O'Hare Modernization Program.

    Sen. Dick Durbin takes the podium as Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot leaves during a Chicago event marking the completion of the O'Hare Modernization Program. Marni Pyke | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 9/10/2021 7:16 AM

Aircraft won't be able to land on Runway 9-Right/27-Left until December, but Chicago leaders on Thursday called the extension of 9R/27L and the contentious, game-changing O'Hare Modernization Program done.

Stretching Runway 9-Right/27-Left to 11,260 feet is the last piece of the $6 billion initiative to create a parallel runway system intended to improve safety, expand capacity and create jobs at O'Hare International Airport. It also cost Bensenville about 600 homes, pitted Chicago against numerous suburbs and changed jet noise patterns across the region.

 

"Many people that think we reached this point easily. I know better," longtime U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said Thursday at an event celebrating the program's completion at O'Hare. "It was a battle first in court, then in Congress, then in the neighborhoods around O'Hare.

"It still continues to this day. But we have to accept the reality. This means more efficient use of this space, safer use of these runways and gives us a claim for economic opportunity that other states don't have."

The project, which began in 2005, shifted O'Hare from a diagonal system to six parallel east/west runways.

The massive project was "an unfortunate chapter in Bensenville's history that tore our community apart -- both literally and figuratively," Village Manager Evan Summers said.

"Now, Bensenville has the choice to wallow in the past or look forward to ways in which to capitalize on our proximity to O'Hare. Village President Frank DeSimone has given staff clear direction to focus on the latter."

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The entire plan includes four new runways, two runway extensions and two new air traffic control towers.

"These investments will catalyze airport-related economic growth within Chicago and the surrounding communities," Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.

"Airports do more than just transport passengers and cargo; they support job creation, stimulate the economy and create numerous business opportunities for residents."

Construction on the Runway 9-R/27-L extension will wrap up at the end of September, and the Federal Aviation Administration will conduct flight checks and complete installation of instrument landing equipment in October and November, officials said.

The runway will be officially commissioned in early December, leaving O'Hare with three runways on the north airfield and three on the south.

That is expected to equally distribute noise around the region, Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Jamie Rhee said Thursday.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Residents in the airport's shadow are crossing their fingers.

"Park Ridge already is getting more noise," said Ernst Kosower, chairman of the village's O'Hare Commission. "The goal and the challenge is to mitigate it as much as possible and make it fair for everyone in the communities that are around the airport."

Glenview senior planner Michelle House said her village is "getting noise and hearing from our residents."

"We're very interested in getting to a resolution that is equitable," House said.

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