O’Hare Loses Out On Coveted “Busiest Airport” Title

Colleagues who attended SISE 2014 will remember when David Robbins of the Chicago Department of Aviation presented on the massive O’Hare runway expansion and modernization project, which I covered previously that summer to suggest that we might save some meager transit budget dollars by investing in Gary’s airport instead of O’Hare’s, as a way of decreasing congestion at O’Hare and improving the sometimes quite literal train wreck that involves the Calumet Region’s tangle of highway interchanges, Canadian National freight yards and intermodal lines, and passenger rail.

Mr. Robbins explained how this was necessary to increase the amount of traffic that the airport could handle and, when pressed, explained that their objective was to make O’Hare the busiest airport in the country. As with every other project in the city of Chicago, it mysteriously cost $8 billion and contractors mysteriously got quite wealthy, but they are getting a lot of stuff done, and, though I did put him on the spot about the quest for the busiest designation, I give his team credit for working to make the airport substantially less un-sustainable.

Well, news out this week that O’Hare did lose out to Hartfields-Jackson by a measly 32,000 flights. I guess this means that economic unicorns like Boeing, JLL, Groupon, Aon, Blue Cross, will now all be flocking to the great Down South. Can we start talking about how to improve transit infrastructure instead of just chasing after the biggest number of large, costly machines that grace our local expanse of tarmac?



Nat M. Zorach, AICP is a city planner, community development professional, and MBA candidate at American University's Kogod School of Business, based in Detroit.

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