The City Council's Finance Committee on Tuesday approved Mayor Richard Daley's request to issue $1 billion in bonds to finish the halfway-complete O'Hare expansion project.
Daley wanted the new bonds in order buy time to keep the project going with the hope the city will be able to persuade the airports' two largest tenants, American and United Airlines, to sign on. But, it wouldn't just be a one time deal. The city would have to dive into the bond market at least twice to pay for the remaining work.
The plans for the expansion may change as well. In all, $3.3 billion is needed to finish the job and that cuts out plans for new terminals, a people mover extension and other infrastructure elements.
The need for more money comes as talks continue with both United and American on a way for the three to pony up money for a new western terminal that will primarily be used by other airlines.
United has stepped up to the plate on the deal, but hasn't signed anything yet. It wants to postpone development of a $2.2 billion western terminal until it's needed. Chicago Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino says, "When we need it, we will have the ability to build it."
Time may be running out though to come to terms with the airlines on a deal. Today, the city's finance committee will take a look at the funding. If set in motion, the money would be used to move a portion of Irving Park Road. That could set off a firestorm between the airlines and the city. Officials with the airlines say a 2005 contract makes sure the city can't fund projects with money paid by landing fees and terminal rents without first gaining the consent of carriers first.
Daley has been firm on the commitment that we the taxpayers won't foot the bill for the project, but there are concerns if the city fails to sign a deal with the airlines, we'll be sent the bill.