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Mayor: O’Hare runway project should benefit workers citywide

Mayor Rahm Emanuel promised Sunday to employ a hiring strategy for the newly announced O’Hare Airport runway construction that creates opportunity for people in all of Chicago’s neighborhoods — using the Red Line South rebuild as a model.

“We’re going to do it in a way where O’Hare is no longer an island as a part of the economic strategy of the city of Chicago, but make sure that everybody from every part of the city of Chicago participates in the growth of O’Hare and the opportunity to get a job and a career in that effort,” Emanuel said.

The mayor made that comment at the airport Sunday as he made formal the announcement of a $1.3 billion plan to build a new runway at O’Hare, one he hopes will lead to new gates and other terminal improvements to help reduce delays. He was joined by several dignitaries, including Chicago Urban League President and CEO Shari Runner.

Runner lauded the mayor’s commitment to diversity in the O’Hare project that Emanuel said could create as many as 5,000 jobs.

“We have a long way to go,” Runner said. “We don’t want this to be the exception. We want this to become the rule.”

Runner also pointed to the Red Line South project, which she said led to the creation of 400 part-time bus operator jobs, 85 construction jobs and the creation of a database filled with 4,000 skilled workers. She later said she’s not yet aware of a specific diversity goal for the O’Hare runway project.

However, City Hall’s community jobs outreach could include the opening of hiring offices in underserved communities, outreach to minority and women-owned contractors, and local hiring requirements for portions of the project funded by the city.

The mayor’s office says the new runway — which, at 11,245 feet long and 200 feet wide, will be O’Hare’s second-biggest — will improve on-time flight performance by increasing the capacity of the airport. Work is set to begin in May, and completion is expected by 2020. The runway project received $345 million in U.S. Department of Transportation funding, with $60 million in recent additional funding from the FAA.

It also received $200 million from passenger fees, $103 million from the airlines and $619 million more in airline-funded projects for airfield work.

The plan also includes adding de-icing pads and other projects that city officials say will lead to new gates and terminal modernization.

Helen Rosenberg, a member of the leadership team of Fair Allocation in Runways — which has been critical of noise and air pollution generated at O’Hare — said Sunday that Emanuel’s plan will continue to drive residents away from neighborhoods near the airport.

Contributing: Tina Sfondeles