A new boss will oversee Chicago's multi-billion-dollar O'Hare plans

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CHICAGO – Chicago’s Aviation Department will have a new leader as the city shifts from a multi-billion-dollar project to reconfigure O'Hare International Airport's runways to another multi-billion-dollar project to remake the airport's terminals

Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans will step down Aug. 1 after three years at the helm of the department that manages O’Hare and Midway International Airport. Chief Procurement Officer Jamie Rhee will take over, and Cook County’s chief procurement officer of 12 years, Shannon Andrews, will replace Rhee.

The City Council must sign off on the appointments.

“When I appointed Ginger three years ago, I tasked her with specific goals to modernize our airports and strengthen our status as a global transportation hub so that Chicago’s distinguished airports would not only be the busiest, but the best,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement.

Evans “negotiated an historic $8.7 billion agreement to modernize O’Hare, opened two new runways and the first new gates in 25 years," Emanuel said, also crediting her for undertaking the largest investment plan for Midway in nearly two decades, and attracting new airlines and services.

Evans took the post in June 2015. She came from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority where she served as vice president of engineering and had overseen major building projects at Reagan National and Dulles airports in addition to the Silver Line Metrorail extension.

During her tenure, she oversaw later stages of the $8 billion runway reconfiguration known as the O’Hare Modernization Program. The city earlier this year negotiated a new carrier lease and use agreement – after some initial turbulence over a gate dispute between United Airlines and American Airlines -- that paves the way for financing the $8.7 billion terminal makeover.

The makeover will rely primarily on borrowing repaid by airport and passenger generated revenue and the city council has signed off on an initial $4 billion of debt. The city could begin borrowing later this year.

The airport has about $8 billion of outstanding debt that carries ratings in the single-A category.

Evans was often in the hot seat, defending the aviation department's contract-award decisions in front of city council members pressing for enforcement of the city’s ownership diversity rules for doling out lucrative city business. Rhee's procurement experience may come in handy.

An oversight commission that will include minority and women council members is tasked with ensuring that major contractors use minority and women-owned firms.

“As a procurement expert, lawyer and former employee of the Department of Aviation, Jamie will be able to oversee upcoming construction projects while also managing airport operations,” Emanuel said.

Rhee started with the city in 1994 as an airport information officer and is credited with three publications on aviation law. From 2004-2008, she was general counsel for the O’Hare Modernization Program overseeing legal matters and the environmental impact statement and legal reviews of contracts and procurement.

During her city career, Rhee also has served as a deputy chief of staff to former Mayor Richard M. Daley and held other posts in the law and planning and development departments. In her current post, Rhee manages purchasing for $2 billion of goods and services including certification of minority, women-, and veteran-owned businesses.

In 2017, O’Hare and Midway airports handled more than 100 million passengers, surpassing the previous record set in 2016.

The city last week picked Elon Musk’s The Boring Company to design, privately finance, build, and operate express transit service in a yet-to-be-built tunnel between O'Hare and the Loop. The city has stressed no taxpayer funding is at stake in the project, which relies on untested technology.

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