After 16 years, O'Hare modernization project is finished

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other elected officials celebrated the completion of the O'Hare modernization project that began under Mayor Richard Daley.

The project has taken 16 years, but Thursday officials touted the improvements and what it has meant for the airlines and people traveling through O'Hare.

The project cost $6 billion and brought significant improvements to one of the world's busiest airports, including four new runways, two extended runways, and two new air traffic control towers. The new configuration reduces the weather delays that used to grind air travel to a halt.

"Modernizing the configuration of the airport runways will increase the number of flights and make traveling more convenient for people who come to and from our city," said Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Then-Mayor Daley broke ground on the project in 2005. It's had its problems through the years, including numerous court challenges from surrounding communities over noise. There is now a certain resignation that there is not much that can be done about that.

"I always say that they don't build new runways to make it quieter, they build new runways to expand capacity," said Evan Summers, Bensenville Village Manager.

But even as runway improvements move travelers to and from the airport more efficiently, the people mover train has been shut down for 18 months, forcing passengers to use shuttle buses to get between terminals.

"The people mover's really a frustrating saga and the city's gonna be the first one to say the timing has been pretty awful," said Joe Schwieterman, DePaul University transportation expert.

Still, the completion of the project is widely hailed as a much-needed improvement, helping the airlines who are still struggling with the economic impact of the pandemic.

"We know the last 18 months have been incredibly difficult for all of us but we also know that a strong recovery is on the horizon. Projects like this help us look towards the bright future," said Nathan Gatten, Sr. VP of American Airlines.

The next phase, called O'Hare 21, shifts the focus to modernize the terminals and improve that part of the traveling experience with upgrades to speed up security screening and baggage handling.
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