Opponents of Chicago’s $7.5 billion expansion of O’Hare International Airport suffered another legal setback last week when a U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed the group’s litigation.
The court, in a decision released Friday, said the plaintiffs lacked the legal standing to challenge a Federal Aviation Administration grant for the project. Several suburbs adjacent to O’Hare and the owners of a cemetery that is to be relocated have mounted the lengthy legal battle against the project on several fronts, arguing that the relocation of the cemetery violates federal freedom of religion protections and that the city’s funding scheme is not viable.
The court in the decision said the opponents failed to show the probability that they would suffer injury as a result of a $29 million grant. Chicago has received approval from the FAA for about $337 million in airport improvement grants with the $29 million representing the first in more than a dozen installments.
“We are extremely pleased with today’s decision as we continue to implement this project of national significance,” Rosemarie Andolino, the executive director of the expansion project, said in a statement. The city expects a new runway and the extension of another to open in November. So far it has acquired or reached agreements on 551 of the 611 parcels needed in Bensenville.
Though Chicago has also won favorable rulings on the relocation of the cemetery, final appeals are still pending. Delays caused by the various legal complaints filed by the group have contributed to $400 million in cost overruns for the first phase of the project.
Chicago earlier this year sold about $1 billion of new-money and refunding airport bonds. Overall, the first $2.9 billion phase of the expansion relies on $1.6 billion of general airport revenue bonds, $659 million of bonds backed by passenger facilities charges as well as general airport revenues, $330 million of federal grants, and the pay-as-you-go use of PFCs.
The project calls for the airport’s runways to be reconfigured to a parallel configuration from the current intersecting one, allowing O’Hare to handle 1.2 million flights annually and helping to reduce delays that occur in poor weather and impact the national air travel grid. The FAA approved the plan in 2005.