Work on a massive expansion of O'Hare International Airport aimed at reducing some of the nation's worst flight delays can resume over opponents' objections, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.
The city of Chicago won approval from the Federal Aviation Administration Sept. 30 for a nearly $15 billion project to add runways and reconfigure others. But the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington ordered a halt to construction the same day to allow time to consider objections from expansion foes.
The same court's ruling Tuesday allows construction to continue while it considers the opponents' request to block the project. Had the court allowed an emergency stay to remain in place during its review of the opponents' appeal, the project likely would have been pushed back many months.
The city said in a statement that it will resume construction work Thursday.
The Chicago suburbs of Bensenville and Elk Grove Village and a church that owns a cemetery in the path of the expansion are among opponents asking the court to block the O'Hare project.
The 440-acre expansion would require that the city purchase and raze 2,600 homes and 200 businesses and relocate 1,300 tombs. Opponents say construction should not be allowed pending their appeal because the work would cause permanent damage to their property.
"We are going to be pursuing legal remedies in every form we can to accelerate the appellate process," said Joe Karaganis, an attorney for the expansion opponents.
Congestion at O'Hare, often due to bad weather, can quickly cause gridlock in the U.S. commercial aviation system. A Transportation Department study released earlier this year ranked O'Hare last in on-time departures and arrivals during 2004.
By the project's estimated completion in 2013, the city says O'Hare should be able to handle 1.2 million landings and takeoffs annually - 300,000 more than now. Flight delays would fall from the current average of about 17 minutes to 5.8 minutes, according to FAA projections.
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The expansion project will add a new terminal, two runways and redesign two other runways
The judge's ruling allows the city to resume buying properties in the path of the planned expansion.
The appeals court granted a stay while it considered opponents' emergency motion to stop the project, which is designed to relieve chronic flight delays by adding some runways.