An infusion of millions of additional dollars in federal funding and a compromise with the airlines to move forward with building only one new runway for now gave Mayor Richard Daley the breakthrough agreement he desperately sought to keep alive the expansion of O'Hare International Airport.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Monday at O'Hare announced a $1.17 billion deal that splits the "completion phase" of O'Hare expansion into at least two parts.
It ensures some work will continue this spring as Daley prepares to leave office, but the O'Hare project either will likely drag on for many years or end abruptly after the next piece.
A planned far southern runway that was supposed to be the final runway built as part of the $15 billion O'Hare Modernization Program will instead be constructed next, starting in the spring with completion anticipated in about 2016, officials said.
Negotiations between the city of Chicago and United and American airlines will be postponed until 2013 over when to build another runway that is north of the passenger terminals, as well as the planned extension of an existing runway.
As part of the deal unveiled Monday, United and American dropped their lawsuit seeking to stop the O'Hare project.
The city, in turn, will be able to sell about $1 billion in bonds that the airline lawsuit had blocked.
The carriers also commited to use airline revenues to back $298 million in airport revenue bonds and agree to the use of $365 million in passenger ticket taxes at O'Hare for the next runway, taxiways and associated improvements.
The U.S. Department of Transportation facilitated the deal between bitterly divided city and airline officials by providing an additional $155 million, on top of the approximately $1 billion in federal funding already committed--the most ever granted to an airport project in the U.S.
"Completing the O'Hare Modernization Program is more important than ever," Daley said at the announcement. "This is a wonderful day for Chicago."
Asked if he gave anything up, Daley said: "Everybody gave. ... I did (too), but I'm not going to mention it."
United CEO Jeffery Smisek said the agreement "permits us to participate in a fiscally responsible manner."
Asked what altered the airlines' hardline position that more O'Hare runway would not be needed for many years, Smisek said, nodding toward LaHood, "The gentleman standing behind me helped change my mind."
LaHood said he had been in regular contact with Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, describing him as "very interested in seeing this project move forward."
"He emailed me everyday," LaHood said when asked about Emanuel's role.
But LaHood said Daley "deserves the most credit."Copyright © 2015, CT Now