Three companies heavily involved in construction at O'Hare International Airport have been awarded more than $182 million in new contracts to expand the airfield, city officials said late Friday.
The joint venture of Omaha-based Kiewit Western Co. and the Reyes Group Ltd. of south suburban Markham submitted a low bid of $149.9 million to perform land-grading work in preparation for construction of Runway 10 Center/28 Center, according to the O'Hare Modernization Program.
Walsh Construction Co. of Chicago was awarded a separate contract to build an air-traffic control tower on the northern portion of the airfield to serve Runway 9 Left/27 Right, which is the first new airstrip scheduled to open under the $15 billion O'Hare expansion plan. Walsh was the low bidder on the tower contract, at $32.7 million, city officials said.
The city expects that the opening of Runway 9 Left/27 Right, in late 2008, will help cut flight delays in bad weather.
Studies conducted for the Federal Aviation Administration have shown that significant reductions in delays likely won't occur until Runway 10 Center/28 Center opens, however.
Two major obstacles are blocking the city from setting a date to begin construction on Runway 10 Center/28 Center.
The city's ongoing legal battle with O'Hare expansion critics in Bensenville and Elk Grove Village has resulted in an injunction that prevents Chicago from taking title to St. Johannes Cemetery, a 19th Century religious burial ground in the path of the planned runway. O'Hare officials plan to relocate the 1,600 graves to another cemetery and build Runway 10 Center/28 Center.
In addition, the FAA says it will block the opening of Runway 10 Center/28 Center unless the city builds an airfield taxiway called Lima Lima that is needed for safety and airport efficiency.
Lima Lima was part of the city's original plan that the FAA approved, but Chicago says it doesn't have the more than $200 million it needs to build Lima Lima.
The city is working to identify funding for the taxiway, but the major airlines at O'Hare have refused to help shoulder the expense.
Runway 9 Left/27 Right, meanwhile, had been scheduled to open in 2007 under the city's original plans, but bids related to the project were rejected after far exceeding engineering estimates.
The FAA will limit the number of flights on Runway 9 Left/27 Right until the north airfield control tower is fully operational, which is not expected until late 2009, city officials say. Groundbreaking for the control tower was initially anticipated last spring.
Preparation work will begin soon now that a contract has been awarded, officials said.
A temporary air-traffic tower will be built to allow some flights on Runway 9 Left/27 Right until the permanent control tower is operating, officials said.
A total of $541 million in construction contracts have been awarded under the O'Hare expansion program, which has set a completion date of 2012 under the city's aggressive timetable.
An additional $490 million in construction bid packages are expected to be awarded by the end of this year, city officials said.
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