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New O’Hare runway praised, called critical to daytime capacity

Mayor Rahm Emanuel hailed a new O’Hare International runway for helping solidify Chicago’s place on the “global stage” as controversy swirled around the $516 million airstrip’s debut.

A long list of elected officials were missing from a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday after the Fair Allocation in Runways coalition revealed it had urged them to boycott the event.

Addressing a crowd gathered under a white tent near the runway’s endpoint, Emanuel said companies were relocating to Chicago because of its ability to take travelers any place in the world.

O’Hare and new runway 10R-28L are critical to Chicago’s ability to stay “on pace as a world-class city,” said Emanuel, who had taken a personal interest in the runway’s launch and O’Hare’s overhaul while campaigning for mayor.

A Chicago Sun-Times-Better Government Association analysis of Federal Aviation Administration documents indicated the runway will only see 5 percent of the airfield’s traffic for at least the next five years. If another runway and a runway extension are completed, it is expected to see 6 percent of air traffic.

The new runway, at O’Hare’s far southern end, is among the airfield’s shortest at 7,500 feet but carries the longest taxi ride to gates, of 20 minutes. It required construction of its own air traffic control tower, but both the tower and the runway will be closed at night.

Aviation officials say the airfield’s fifth east-west parallel runway will provide a critical boost to daytime capacity when winds are blowing from the east, which happens about 30 percent of the time. It should increase capacity of daytime east-flow arrivals, especially at peak hours and in poor visibility, they said.

“This is good for Chicago because I already learned, in my short stay here, that we can see all kinds of weather in a single day,” new Chicago Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans said.

State Sen. John Mulroe, D-Chicago, who was among those boycotting the event, said the O’Hare Modernization Program has caused an onslaught of new jet noise for his constituents east of O’Hare. But, Mulroe said, it has yet to produce the volume of jet traffic or efficiencies promised.

“What they planned for is not coming true,’’ Mulroe said. “Somebody needs to take another look at it [the overhaul] because it’s not turning out the way they said.”

State Rep. Christine Winger, D-Bloomingdale, said she, too, “purposefully chose not to attend” the event as her constituents west of O’Hare, in Wood Dale and Itasca, have been bombarded with new jet noise and are due for more from the new runway.

Among those praised at the ceremony was former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who persuaded United Airlines and American Airlines to support the construction of the new runway in 2011. The airlines even filed suit over the overhaul plan at one point.

“Donald Trump would be in awe of how [LaHood] closed this deal,’’ said Will Ris, American Airlines senior vice president of government affairs for American Airlines.

LaHood said then-White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley personally asked him to broker a resolution with the airlines, and the first meeting in his office with Daley’s brother, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley, and the CEOs of United and American was “very spirited.”

Emanuel at the time was running for mayor and was deeply interested in the negotiations that eventually allowed O’Hare’s latest runway to open, LaHood said.

“During the time we were negotiating, Rahm would call me every day — he was a candidate at that time — and was intimately interested,’’ LaHood said.

“He was running for mayor and wanted to make sure the [O’Hare overhaul] was finished,” LaHood explained later.

LaHood said the city’s new aviation commissioner is “determined to finish the project,’’ even though United and American have yet to sign off on the last phase of work.