The Ever-Elusive Runways Of Chicago

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Expanding an airport is never easy -- neighbors, environmental concerns, evaporating funds, all manner of obstacles appear -- but even so, O'Hare International Airport seems to have fallen into some kind of infinite whirlpool of hurdles and holdups. Congress went home last year without getting around to authorizing money for the expansion, but well, maybe, it will get off the ground pretty soon ... or maybe not. Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin reintroduced the spending bill on the first day of the new session last week, and it might get acted on soon, as a leftover. "That's clearly what we're looking at," says a spokesman for Durbin, who talked to Chicago Business News. "That's our best shot." Or, they might wait and attach it to the new appropriations bill. But even if that works, American Airlines and United Air Lines, both in financial straits, have balked at paying their share, saying there's no big rush to get a new runway done in 2004. Nonetheless, the ever-optimistic city last week awarded $38 million to an engineering team to work on construction drawings and other projects. The entire expansion is expected to cost almost $7 billion over 15 years. The bill to fund O'Hare also includes a provision that would protect Meigs Field from arbitrary closings.