CHICAGO - A DuPage County, Ill., Circuit Court judge yesterday cleared the path for Chicago's demolition of about 500 suburban homes to make room for the $7.5 billion runway expansion plan at O'Hare International Airport, although local opponents vowed to carry on their legal challenge.
Judge Kenneth Popejoy released his written ruling yesterday, lifting the preliminary injunction imposed in July 2007 to allow for an environmental study on the public health hazards the village of Bensenville had argued would result if demolition were permitted. While the study failed to show sufficient toxins and other hazards existed to stem demolition, the village believes a more detailed assessment is needed.
The injunction stalled the city's efforts to demolish the homes to make way for one in a series of new runways being built as part of the O'Hare Modernization Program. Bensenville officials said they would ask the court to keep the injunction in place while the ruling is appealed to a higher court. At a news conference yesterday, the officials also called on Chicago to delay the demolition until the city can demonstrate it has the funding needed to for the second phase of the project.
"Chicago has failed to show how they plan to pay for this misguided billion-dollar boondoggle," village president John Geils said. "If Chicago cannot prove there is an adequate funding mechanism, bulldozing our town will be a wasteful, unnecessary, and cruel burden on the people of Bensenville."
The city responded to the ruling, noting the judge's comments that further delays in demolition could pose safety concerns because the properties are vacant. "As we have stated all along, the city of Chicago is fully committed to building the entire OMP. Today's decision moves us one step closer to realizing that goal," said OMP executive director Rosemarie Andolino.
A new runway is set to open as planned this fall under the $3.3 billion first phase of the program while negotiations continue between the city and the airport's struggling air carriers over approval for the second phase. Officials say they want to complete the three phases of the overall $8 billion program by 2014.
The runway plan is designed to expand the airport's capacity to 1.2 million flights from one million and relieve delays that occur in poor weather conditions when runways are closed down, impacting the national air traffic grid.
A series of legal challenges mounted by suburban opponents have failed to halt construction. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court said it would not consider an appeal filed by the group that had cleared the path for Chicago to acquire and relocate a cemetery for the project. A separate case challenging the viability of the financing scheme for the project is pending before the District of Columbia appellate court.
The first phase - which originally had a price tag of $2.9 billion but has grown by $400 million due to construction delays - relies on $1.6 billion of general airport revenue bonds, $659 million of bonds backed by passenger facility charges, and general airport revenues, the use of PFCs on a pay-as-you-go basis, and $330 million in federal grants. Overall, the total runway plan loosely relies on $4.43 billion of GARB borrowing, $1.6 billion of PFC-backed debt, $752 million of third-party financing, and $677 million of federal aid and other pay-as-you-go funds.