New O'Hare tower nears completion

CHICAGO It was built as part of the multi-million dollar modernization project to help reduce the number of flight delays. It goes online in just over a month.

Driving by O'Hare on I-90 or flying into the airport, you can't help but notice this new tower. It was built in roughly two years which is a fairly expeditious construction timetable for an air traffic control tower.

The tower is 200 tons of steel, and 2,100 cubic feet of concrete. The North Airfield control tower is 230 feet up. It's a satellite tower - necessary because controllers in the main O'Hare tower don't have a very good line of sight for the new northern runway.

Shifts of four controllers will work the tower. Their job will largely be handling O'Hare arrivals on the new not-yet-opened northern runway. The principle purpose of that runway is to reduce delays, particularly in bad weather. It will do that, but by itself will have only a marginal effect on delays.

"But what's important to remember is that as the next runway comes online and those thereafter, we change the configuration of the airfield and realize a substantial decrease in delays and an increase in capacity at the airfield. So yes, this is the first step of a much larger project," said Barry Cooper, FAA regional administrator.

The tower has a cantilever design and the cab's huge glass panes, one of which weighs 4,000 pounds, rest at a 30-degree angle. There's a basic reason for that.

"There's a lot less water that gets on them when it rains. It takes a pretty abrupt rain storm to get water on them and - you stood up there - you have a lot better view straight down," said Bill Mumper, O'Hare air traffic manager.

If you look straight down, you would see the beginnings of a green roof on the admin building at the base of the tower. Sedum plants will make it the FAA's first "green" control tower center.

In a couple weeks the crane will be gone, the scaffolding will be removed and the tower will be open for operations November 20.

The new runway - 9-Left- 27 Right is scheduled to open that day and is O'Hare's first new runway in 37 years.

"We're hoping to have the President land 9-Left 27-Right with Air Force One," said Rosie Andelino, executive director of the O'Hare Modernization Project.

Andolino said that the new runway and new tower are on schedule and under budget.

The suburban opponents of O'Hare expansion are fond of reminding that the airlines have not signed on to funding phase two of o'hare expansion because the dollar signs are too big, and that a new tower, one new runway, and one extended runway will not add up to delay relief.

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