State Journal-Register

April 27, 2001

Airline tie-ups dominate talks by Ryan, Daley 


WASHINGTON - Gov. George Ryan, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and the Illinois congressional delegation Thursday pledged to bridge their vast differences and work together to alleviate air-traffic congestion in the Chicago area.

Such a unified effort, if it occurs, would be unprecedented among the state's elected leaders, who have been fiercely divided for years over whether to expand O'Hare International Airport or build a new third airport.

"I think we're going to get something resolved fairly soon on the airport issue because we've got people here who all know that if we don't, the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois are going to be hurt by it," said Ryan, emerging from a luncheon meeting in House Speaker Dennis Hastert's office suite.

Ryan and Daley were here on their third annual trip together to attract more federal funds for state programs ranging from Medicaid to the Illinois Rivers 2020 restoration effort.

But this trip was dominated by discussion of the air-traffic congestion problem that was highlighted in a report by the Federal Aviation Administration earlier this week.

For 31/2 hours a day, O'Hare has more flights scheduled than it can handle, resulting in delays even on clear days, the FAA report found. In bad weather, the airport is overcapacity for eight hours a day. And, the situation is predicted only to get worse over the next 10 years.

The Illinois lawmakers' new resolve to find a mutually agreeable solution is spurred by the threat of Iowa's senators, Republican Charles Grassley and Democrat Tom Harkin, to seek federal intervention.

The Iowa senators want the Senate Appropriations Committee to approve funding to begin planning for two new runways at O'Hare. The move could strip state and local authority over O'Hare.

"It's not just an Illinois airport. The whole country depends on it," said Harkin aide Seth Boffeli. "Recent reports have shown that a lot of delays across the nation are due, in part, because O'Hare is operating beyond its capacity right now."

Ryan has been pushing for a third Chicago-area airport to be built at Peotone, about 40 miles south of the city. Daley is staunchly opposed, favoring construction of more runways at O'Hare and expansion of the Gary, Ind., airport. The state's congressional delegation also is split.

"I don't believe this is going to be easy, but I do believe it's a challenge that we should try to face," said Sen. Dick Durbin, who has remained neutral.

The Springfield Democrat said the delegation hoped to meet with Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and other federal aviation experts to increase efficiency at Chicago-area airports.

Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., who is strongly opposed to O'Hare's expansion, said the luncheon meeting was significant because it was the first time that key players in the debate had sat face-to-face and discussed their opposing views.

He saw reason for optimism.

When he sat next to Daley at a private delegation dinner Wednesday night, they discussed the airport situation and "we didn't throw food at each other," Fitzgerald said. "So I'm hopeful that some consensus could someday emerge from our delegation."