The Federal Aviation Administration announced Friday it has approved a $15 billion project to expand the delay-plagued O'Hare International Airport by rearranging and adding runways - a plan that requires destruction of hundreds of homes.
"O'Hare is now cleared for takeoff," FAA administrator Marion C. Blakey said in a teleconference from Washington.
She said the project would cut O'Hare delays by about two-thirds. Safety would increase, she said, because the new airport layout would roughly halve the number of planes crossing active runways.
The FAA had informed the city before making the announcement, Blakey said, and the city had heavy equipment in place.
"We will start work today," said Roderick Drew, spokesman for the city's O'Hare Modernization Program.
The first job will be preparing the site of a new northern runway, he said.
The eight-year plan calls for reconfiguring intersecting runways to a design of six parallel and two diagonal runways, which planners say would make it easier for planes to take off and land. The first runway would be opened in 2007. The plan also calls for adding taxiways, another terminal building, parking spaces for oversized planes and jet bridges.
The plan drew intense criticism from some, largely because the 440-acre expansion requires the city to buy and raze more than 500 homes, displacing about 2,600 residents, and move nearly 200 businesses and a cemetery with 1,300 tombs dating back to the 1800s.
Mayor Richard M. Daley has long pushed to expand O'Hare, saying it would speed up air travel throughout the United States. A cost-benefit analysis by the city projected that the project would save more than $12 billion over nearly two decades by reducing passenger and aircraft delays.
Critics say the city has exaggerated the project's benefits and underestimated its cost. In July, the Transportation Department also said the cost estimate was low.
The report also said the city has applied for $528 million in grants for the project, along with an additional $248 million for capital improvements over the next 20 years.
Daley maintains the city will have the money to complete the expansion, saying that funds would cover about 10 percent of the total cost and bonds and passenger facility charges would make up the rest.
Associated Press writer Maura Kelly Lannan contributed to this report.
On the Net:
O'Hare International Airport: http://www.ohare.com
Federal Aviation Administration: http://www.faa.gov
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