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O'Hare gets fed stimulus money

March 30, 2009 4:19:58 PM PDT
O'Hare Airport will get $12 million in federal stimulus money, none of which will go toward cash-strapped modernization project.Hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money is being doled out to public work projects around the country. O'Hare officials had hoped they'd get more. And, so far, there's no aviation money where the city needs it most- the financially-troubled O'Hare Modernization Project (OMP).

The announcement was made by Dick Durbin almost two weeks ago. However, the mayor and his aviation director wanted to repeat the news at O'Hare on Monday.

"None of the $12 million (is for) O'Hare Modernization phase one projects," said Mayor Daley.

The $12.3 million to rehabilitate an existing runway and taxiway is nowhere near the amount city officials once thought they might get when talk of a stimulus package began last fall. Back then they openly hoped the financially troubled, estimated $15 billion O'Hare Modernization Project might be bailed out by the feds.

"We believe the O'Hare Modernization Plan is perfectly positioned to meet any of the criteria that gets established to compete for that money," said Rose Marie Andolino, OMP Director, last month.

But the stimulus bill set aside only $1.1 billion to be divvied up by airports across the country. Andolino and her boss, the mayor, who for years have stressed the national importance of OMP, seemed happy to get their twelve million.

"$12 million is a lot of money," said Mayor Daley

"The issue is the criteria established by the FAA in order to receive any of this $1.1 billion set in the recovery package," said Andolino.

In nearby Bensenville, opponents celebrated.

"He doesn't have the money. It's about jobs and patronage at O'Hare, not about aviation capacity and reduced delays," said John Geils, Bensenville president.

Finally, Senator Durbin explained that president Obama's insistence that the stimulus bill contain no earmarks had more to do with OMP not getting any money...than the project's viability.

"We want to make certain that at the end of the day we can account for this money to the taxpayers," said Sen. Dick Durbin.

City officials say they have applied for more grants from the $1.1 billion made available for airports. It does not appear at this point that they will qualify for money to fill a confirmed $50 million dollar deficit in the OMP. Also, the major airlines--United and American--have balked at paying their share of the project's phase two.

Despite those problems, Andolino says the OMP is on schedule to be finished by 2014.


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