Feds officially approve the massive expansion of O'Hare terminals

The Federal Aviation Administration has officially approved a massive redo of O'Hare that will mean new terminals, gates, hotels and development on the western side of the airport.

O'Hare International Airport "is an absolute powerhouse and in turn makes Chicago and Chicagoland a powerhouse for the American economy," U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said at a briefing Monday in Terminal 2.

The $12 billion capital program, with a price tag expanded from original estimates, "will replace this very terminal we're in - the oldest facility at O'Hare," Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said, calling it a "key milestone."

Known as the Terminal Area Plan, its blockbuster feature is dubbed the O'Hare Global Terminal.

"When it opens, the Global Terminal will be one of the most transformative terminal investments in America, more than doubling the space in the existing Terminal 2, and allowing for the integration of international and domestic operations for our hub carriers United and American airlines," Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Jamie L. Rhee said.

The first projects the city will tackle are two satellite terminals on the west side of the airport, intended to be double the size of existing ones and able to fit wide-bodied planes. Those two satellites will be completed in 2027 and 2028, respectively.

Construction of a tunnel connecting the satellites and the Global Terminal starts in 2024. Finally, demolition of Terminal 2 begins in 2026, and officials expect the Global Terminal and tunnel to be finished in 2030.

The Global Terminal "will improve the passenger experience with updated facilities and amenities, reduce taxiing time and wait time for gates, and cohesively integrate all four O'Hare terminal facilities," Lightfoot said.

Also included are two new hotels, one at Terminal 5 and a second to be built as a multiuse complex off Mannheim Road.

The least publicized element of the Terminal Area Plan is also the most consequential one to many suburbs, which have long sought to gain western access to the airport. The city proposes to open an entrance to O'Hare's west side.

This project will include an eight-level parking structure for employees and an employee screening facility with transport to terminals.

The entrance will connect with Route 390, an extension of the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway, and I-490, a ring road on O'Hare's west side. Both toll roads are under construction that's expected to wrap up in 2025.

So far, there's no plans for the general public to use the western entrance.

When asked about access, Rhee said the toll roads "would make it more seamless to get to O'Hare," and the Chicago Department of Aviation is working with the state on western entranceway logistics.

She noted that when passenger levels increase, additional funding will be released for west-side development.

Monday's authorization of the Terminal Improvement Plan followed a detailed environmental review by the FAA.

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A team of architects led by Jeanne Gang has been chosen to design a $2.2 billion global terminal at O'Hare International Airport, replacing Terminal 2. It will serve domestic and international flights. Courtesy of Studio ORD via Associated Press
  U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg talks about new terminals at O'Hare International Airport Monday with (from right) U.S. Rep. Jesús "Chuy" García, CDA Commissioner Jamie Rhee and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfood. García and Lightfoot are rivals in the mayoral election on Feb. 28. Marni Pyke/
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