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O’Hare’s $15 Billion Expansion Left Out of Stimulus Funds

Wed May 06, 2009 - Midwest Edition

CHICAGO (AP) O’Hare International Airport can’t use federal stimulus money for its ongoing $15 billion expansion because of the Obama administration’s criteria, but instead will finance two smaller projects at one of the nation’s busiest airports, Chicago officials said March 30.

The Chicago airport got $12 million from the stimulus package President Barack Obama signed in February — a relatively small sum compared to typically massive cash injections for airport projects.

Asked whether he was disappointed, Mayor Richard Daley said, “It’s better than nothing.”

“People talk about a billion, trillion, but $12 million is a lot of money,” Daley said. “We’re very grateful.”

City and state leaders announced at an airport news conference that the $12 million would be used to repave an existing runway and widen a taxiway.

Officials overseeing the multibillion O’Hare expansion had hoped for a cut of $1.1 billion set aside in the stimulus for airports. But guidelines drawn up by the Federal Aviation Administration excluded the possibility, Rosemarie Andolino, the city’s aviation commissioner, said.

One of the criteria, for example, is that planned projects cannot depend on airport-generated revenue — something the expansion project relies on heavily, said Andolino who is director of the expansion project.

Funding the improvements of the runway and taxiway would fulfill the objectives of the federal stimulus, as would creating an estimated 75 jobs for the projects, said Sen. Dick Durbin.

In the first phase of the expansion, O’Hare inaugurated a $450 million runway in November — its first new runway in nearly 40 years. But the airport hasn’t secured funding for a second phase of expansion, which includes another new runway and terminal.

With stimulus money not a possibility, the city will look to other sources. Negotiations are ongoing with cash-strapped airlines to secure money for the second phase, Andolino said.

“Not receiving the $50 million or any amount of money, it will just be funded under our traditional methods of funding airport construction projects, which would be general airport revenue-backed bonds,” she said.

She added that, despite the funding challenges, she was confident the expansion project would be completed by 2014.

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