"All airports have to do what we're doing: east-west runways deal with the delay factor, especially in Chicago," said Mayor Richard M. Daley, City of Chicago.
Changing O'Hare's runways to an east-west alignment should help in bad weather, because of Chicago's prevailing winds. The extension of the existing runway creates a 13,000 foot strip, which will be the busiest and longest at O'Hare.
In November, a brand-new runway will open at the north end of the airport. After that, another new runway will be created just south of the extended runway that opened Thursday.
All together, they will provide three parallel runways at O'Hare where jets can take-off and land at the same time.
"Right now, in bad weather conditions - or like this morning, when the fog was in and the ceiling cover was low - the air traffic controllers would have to remove an arrival runway. Now we'll have a triple approach at all times, not only in good weather, but in bad weather too," said Rosemarie Andolino, O'Hare Modernization Program.
A new control tower should be operational this November as well.
The runway extension was completed about two months ahead of schedule and under budget, but the O'Hare Expansion Project as a whole is in the red, facing legal challenges by neighboring Bensenville and a cemetery and opposition from long-time residents who will lose their homes.
"I think this whole thing is a fiasco, it's an abuse of use of power by Daley," said Arlene Benson, Bensenville Resident
"If it wasn't for this airport, there'd be nothing out here at all," said Mayor Daley. The financing of the next steps of the project still needs to come together in this difficult economic climate.
"It has to be. You cannot shut something down. If you shut it down, you shut down the future. You cannot do this," said Mayor Daley.
The cost to extend the runway that opened Thursday was $236 million, which was $33 million under-budget.