Chicago City Council Passes $8.5B Plan to Overhaul O’Hare

The Chicago City Council voted Wednesday to approve a massive, multibillion-dollar plan to expand O'Hare International Airport. 

The $8.5 billion overhaul of O'Hare will be the airport's first major capital improvement in more than 25 years, and its largest ever.

The Finance Committee recommended approval of borrowing $4 billion to pay for nearly half the project on Tuesday, setting the stage for its passage by the full Council Wednesday, allowing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to take off. 

Emanuel planned to sign the ordinance, making the expansion plan official, at O'Hare Wednesday afternoon. 

Under the plan, Terminal 2, which is 55 years old, will be torn down to make way for the new "O’Hare Global Terminal" that will streamline customs and immigration processing, according to Emanuel. It will also allow for wider concourses and gates to accommodate larger planes on international flights.

Terminals 1 and 3 will also undergo renovations, officials said, with an upgrade and expansion planned for Terminal 5. In total, the proposal will increase gate capacity by 25 percent and increase terminal square footage from 5.5 to 8.9 million square feet, according to the City of Chicago.

The plan also includes improvements to security screening in an effort to reduce wait times, three new baggage systems as well as new self-service technologies to make the check-in process faster and easier, Emanuel said.

The deal came as the airlines neared the end of a 35-year lease in May. Emanuel sought to leverage that expiration to obtain higher fees from carriers that will in turn finance the project, paying back bonds issued for the construction without using tax dollars.

In all, the expansion is projected to take 8 years and will create 60,000 construction jobs, the City said.

American Airlines had originally opposed the expansion plan when it was unveiled, alleging that the proposal contained a "secret provision, inserted at the last minute" that would give additional gates to United Airlines.

After more than two weeks of public disapproval, American said in a statement earlier this month that the company had reached a deal with the City to win its approval, based a commitment to expedite construction of three "common use gates" for all carriers. 

Per some aldermen's concerns over minority participation in construction, Emanuel has agreed to create a City Council commission to oversee that issue.

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