O'Hare Expansion Will Hurt Other Airports, Say Opponents

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If needed upgrades to your local airport go into a holding pattern in coming years you can probably blame Chicago, according to some of those opposed to the current plans to expand O'Hare International Airport. A group, made up mostly of representatives of neighboring communities that would be affected by the $15 billion proposal, claims that Chicago is looking for 20 percent of the discretionary portion of the Airport Improvement Program's funds for the next 10 years. That, they say, means 20 percent less for every other airport in the country looking for new runways, lights or infrastructure improvements. The city of Chicago wants about $300 million from the fund for the first phase of the O'Hare Modernization Project and could be looking for more than $800 million in total. The AIP has a budget of about $3.5 billion a year but most of that is allocated to ongoing programs. Only about $500 million is available each year for individual projects. Craig Johnson, mayor of Elk Grove Village, Ill., said Congress needs to look at whether the O'Hare expansion is justified in light of the impact on other airports. The group says there are alternatives to expanding O'Hare, including using other airports, reconfiguring existing runways and the use of "congestion management techniques." The FAA will make a decision on the grants as early as September.