Preliminary work began Monday on the first of two new air-traffic control towers to serve future runways at O'Hare International Airport.
Breaking ground for the 255-foot north airfield tower marked a transition in the $15 billion O'Hare expansion project from primarily earthmoving activities that began more than a year ago to construction that will lead to the first new runway opening at the airport in more than 30 years.
Walsh Construction Co.'s crews began drilling concrete caissons for the foundation of the tower, where controllers will direct planes landing on east-west runway 9 Left/27 Right. The runway is scheduled to open by November 2008, Chicago aviation officials said.
"We must build a new control tower on the north airfield because the air-traffic controllers cannot view the ends of our new runway because of buildings obstructing the runway ends," said Rosemarie Andolino, executive director of the O'Hare Modernization Program.
The runway and the extension of an existing runway were originally scheduled for completion in 2007.
Chicago officials declined to provide a timetable for construction of the second new runway, 10 Center/28 Center, originally planned for completion in 2009. O'Hare expansion opponents are appealing a federal court decision that would allow Chicago to move about 1,600 graves at St. Johannes Cemetery, which borders the airport.
Once the $32.7 million north control tower is built, it will take up to a year to install and test equipment, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Air-traffic controllers will work in a temporary facility until the tower is certified for operations sometime in 2009, said FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro.
The tower is being built on a former parking lot for American Airlines employees.
It has a cantilevered design to maximize sight lines to the airfield for the five air-traffic controllers who will direct aircraft on the runway.
The tower will operate as a satellite of O'Hare's main control tower, which will continue to handle the bulk of airport traffic, officials said.
A second new satellite tower is planned for the second phase of O'Hare expansion. The far south airfield tower would serve the future east-west runway 10 Right/28 Left.
About 533 residential units and 55 business properties in Bensenville must be razed to make way for the runway. O'Hare expansion opponents are fighting Chicago's land acquisition in court.
The FAA has not approved funding for the second phase of airport expansion and the airlines have not made a financial commitment.
Delays have pushed back the original 2013 completion date for the entire $15 billion project to transform O'Hare's intersecting runways into a more efficient parallel runway configuration.
No new date has been set, Andolino said. She disclosed last month that the first phase of O'Hare expansion is running more than $400 million over budget.
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