Chicago City Council approves $8.5B O'Hare expansion project

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Chicago City Council approved Wednesday an $8.5 billion upgrade at O'Hare International Airport.

The upgrades would include new runways, a new global terminal and other improvements.

Earlier this week, the council's Finance Committee approved a measure to borrow $4 billion to start the eight-year project.

The project would expand O'Hare's capacity and improve travelers' experience. It would be the largest and most expensive revamp in the airport's history.

Gates would increase from 180 to 220, reducing flight delays and expanding travel options for customers.

New self-service technologies will allow passengers to quickly check in for their flight and drop off their bags. Security screening updates aim to enhance security and further reduce passengers' wait times.

Terminal 2 would be replaced with a new global terminal, and Terminals 1, 3 and 5 would be substantially expanded.

These improvements are expected to be completed by 2026.

"That sounds good, it just sounds a little concerning about what the situation at the airport is going to be like while that's all happening," said Emily Bleibel, a Chicago traveler.

"As long as I'm not standing in longer lines, that's great," said Justin Klehm, another traveler. "Love flying out of O'Hare."

The project is slated to not include taxpayer money, instead be paid for by the airlines. United and American would each get expanded capacity as part of the upgrades.

The plan, dubbed O'Hare 21, is expected to generate 60,000 construction jobs and tens of thousands of permanent jobs.

The Chicago City Council has created an oversight committee that will focus on getting minority contactors involved.

The city believes the new O'Hare will pump $50 million into the Cook County economy annually.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the upgrades Chicago's "boarding pass to a bolder and brighter future."

After the vote, Emanuel and airline representatives from United, American, Delta and Spirit airlines inked new use and lease agreement to expend O'Hare.
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