Thursday, December 11, 2008

"You need a little corruption to make government work"

Well, that's at least is what we're told. But, here's another example of how the state's seamy reputation costs us: State delays $1.4B debt offering | Crain's

Thanks, Rich Daley

Forbes magazine names Bensenville as America's fastest dying town. Bensenville says it's not dead yet, but blame Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's plans to expanded his pot-of-gold, O'Hare Airport, for threatening the town's existence.

Read it in the Daily Herald

More on O'Hare noise protests

New runway brings complaints :: News :: PIONEER PRESS :: Norridge and Harwood Heights News

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

John Harris enters spotlights, reluctantly

Those O'Hare expansion guys sure turn up in the most unsurprising places. Like at the defendant's table in a federal courtroom. Read about John Harris' rise from an instrument of Mayor Richard M. Daley's O'Hare expansion plan into Gov. Rod Blagojevich's inner circle.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Virgin America Welcomed to Boston, Chased Out of Chicago -

Here's another view on Virgin getting booted out of Chicago:

"Almost all gates are currently leased through 2018 by major airlines including American, United, and Delta, which, despite having collectively reduced their capacity at O'Hare by 23 percent since 2000, refused to give up any gates to Virgin America. So effectively, those major airlines have told O'Hare flyers to take their high prices and eat them."

Virgin America to start hub service

But not at O'Hare Airport.

Only a couple of days after Virgin withdrew its unsuccessful effort to land at O'Hare,, the airline announced that it would launch service from Boston to San Francisco and Los Angeles. Too bad Chicago.

Virgin pulled out of Chicago because it was unable to negotiate access to O'Hare gates. And why is that, especially now with so many unused gates there?

Because United and American, which control 80 percent of the traffic there and most of the gates, didn't want the competition. Nothing against Virgin, they just don't want anyone else showing up, offering lower fares, better service or connections to unserved markets.

Wait a minute: Isn't the airport publicly owned? Don't taxpayers pay for it? Shouldn't the city of Chicago, the landlord, recognize that the airport needs more competition?

The answers are yes, yes and yes. But the cozy relatiionship between the two airlines and City Hall prevents any significant competition at O'Hare. We don't need no stinkin' competition.

So, screw the airline passengers. And screw the taxpayers.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Residents near O'Hare protest noise

They say the city lied to them. The new north runway was supposed to be used only by small regional jets, they said.

Chicago to Virgin Airlines: We don't need your stinking business

Virgin abandons O'Hare plans | Crain's

For an earlier story about how Chicago and its friends at United and American have blocked economic growth, go here.

Justice for Park Ridge and Des Plaines?

Several years ago, Park Ridge and Des Plaines withdrew their opposition to the expansion of O'Hare Airport. In Des Plaines, voters elected a pro-expansion mayor after years of opposition, thanks to some heavy footwork done by the Democratic patronage army in the east part of town. Before that, the Des Plaines mayor withdrew his town's membership in the Suburban O'Hare Commission, a consortium of communities opposing O'Hare expansion.

Having sold out, the towns now are full of angry residents complaining about the increased noise that the new northern runway at O'Hare has brought to their communities. According to the Chicago Tribune, no one expected the runway to carry as much traffic as it does, so now Des Plaines and Park Ridge are suffering from the consequences of their folly by lower-flying planes and increased numbers of flights. Apparently, they believed Chicago when it assured everyone, especially in those communities, that the northern runway would not have that much impact on their quality of life.

Perhaps Des Plaines and Park Ridge will have second thoughts and rejoin the opposition.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Appeals court hears O'Hare expansion foes' case

(AP) — Appellate judges have heard arguments from a Chicago suburb hoping to stop the demolition of more than 500 homes in the path of a planned runway at O'Hare International Airport.

Story is here.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008

O'Hare Airport revenue dries up

This is bad news for Mayor Richard M. Daley's stubborn plans to expand O'Hare Airport. This story also describes how other cities have scaled back airport expansion plans in the face of industry uncertainty. But not Daley.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

O’Hare expansion is on life support

Is the major airlines’ rejection of further O’Hare Airport expansion a death knell for the $15-billion-plus project, or is it, as the Daley administration asserts, just a hiccup in the process, caused, in part, by the current economic downturn?

Predictions are risky, but without the airlines shoveling billions of dollars into the expansion, as the Daley administration was counting on, it’s hard to see where the money will come from. Except from you, the passenger, in the form of exorbitantly higher taxes.

Chicago had trouble enough overcoming the many objections for Phase I of the expansion project, which included the new northern runway opened today with great fanfare. Financing always has been a problem, and the airlines never committed to funding Phase II. Now, the airlines have gone even further, by telling the Federal Aviation Administration that the expansion should be stopped.

Rosemarie Andolino, the city’s director of the project, ridiculously claimed that the airlines refusal was nothing new, and if she believes that, she should look at the loss in value of the O’Hare bonds after the story came out this morning. The city several years ago engineered an increase in the seat tax charged to passengers to help fund the project, but the tax could never produce enough revenues to complete the project, even amortized over the next generation.

The airlines’ objections also re-open a new front in the controversy: the technical viability of the project. Specifically, they ridiculed the idea of a new terminal on the airport’s western boundary as “ill-conceived,” reflecting the opponents’ criticism. Chicago never explained—even to the airlines, we now discover—how the new western terminal, sitting in isolation miles from the main terminals—would work. Extension of the airport’s people mover between the terminals? If so, how much would that cost? And why isn’t that cost included in the overall project cost estimate? And where would the money come from?

That’s just one of the important questions that the city skips over. For example: the real restriction on O’Hare capacity is the crowded airspace serving O’Hare and Midway airports. That’s one of the reasons that the FAA and other aviation experts said that airline capacity expansion only can realistically come from a new south suburban airport. Chicago never has explained how it would expand the sky to accommodate the unrealistic number of flights it maintains the expansion could support.

Or this: Where would the promised, new western entrance go to accommodate the long-sought completion of the Elgin-O’Hare Expressway—now a freeway to nowhere—and a long-promised “ring road” around the airport. Project maps have never clearly shown the new route; the administration has failed to answer convincingly the most fundamental question of whether it would be on or off airport property. By almost everyone’s reckoning, the airport has no room for it. If it goes off the airport, it would lead to even greater dislocations of homes and businesses. No money is shown in the plan for this either.

Andolino laughably asserted that the inauguration of the new runway has proven expansion opponents wrong. If anything, it has revealed the dishonesty of the Daley administration: The new runway, the city originally asserted, would increase airport capacity. It won’t. About the only thing it has a chance of accomplishing, according to the FAA, is delay reduction delays, by an unimpressive average 30 seconds.

Too many obstacles, financial, technical and otherwise, stand in the way of the completion of the vast expansion project. Any rational person would say that the project is, or at least should be, dead, dead, dead. But then again, the project was never rational to start with.

Who will put Bensenville back together again?

The east side of Bensenville, a working class suburb, has been virtually destroyed for an expansion of O’Hare Airport that looks now like it will never happen.

So, will Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and his city pay to restore what was once the largest and most successful community of affordable housing in DuPage County? They should, but don’t count on it.

What Daley and his greedy cronies did to Bensenville, a community that had minded its own business for more than 100 years, borders on the criminal. Daley and airport planners knew that they did not need to destroy hundreds of Bensenville homes for years, until later phases of O’Hare expansion were scheduled. Yet, they launched an unprecedented political, economic and government attack that exceeded bounds of decency.

To review: Bensenville, with DuPage County, state and federal assistance, had successfully nurtured this neighborhood of hundreds of homes and businesses. It was modest neighborhood, yes, but it was a viable, clean and healthy neighborhood, exactly what affordable housing advocates (Daley counts himself among them) say that is needed in the job-rich northwest suburbs. But Bensenville sits southwest of O’Hare Airport, in the path of one of the unprecedented, unworkable and dangerous six parallel runways that Daley wanted to install. Daley wanted it at all costs.

The costs, of course, were paid by us taxpayers.

Standing in the way of Daley’s blind hunger to take control of east Bensenville, years before necessary, was long-time Bensenville President John Geils, and his Elk Grove Village ally, Mayor Craig Johnson. When all around them—once proud expansion opponents in neighboring suburbs in the Suburban O’Hare Commission—were being picked off one-by-one by Daley, the two stood firm, together.

Among the obstacles to Daley’s covetedness, was a serious legal one. To obtain the Bensenville properties, Chicago—as O’Hare’s owner—had to threaten condemnation. Trouble was, Bensenville was a separate municipality, in another county at that, and one municipality didn’t have the legal power to condemn property in another one. Long story short: Daley and his allies (in what Tribune columnist John Kass calls the state’s bi-partisan combine of greedy and corrupt politicians and special interests) simply passed a law, no problem. Now Chicago could cross borders and raid another town’s homes. And, by the way, any challenges to that authority would have to be heard in a Cook County court, where the Chicago Machine pretty much control who gets appointed to the bench.

Daley could have held off the acquisition, but in what only can be a fit of spite brought on by a small-town mayor challenging his power, he proceeded. One by one, Chicago picked off the homeowners and renters, many who had become resigned to their fate by the constant barrage of negativity in the media and elsewhere about the future of their neighborhood. Chicago’s intent was to create momentum, by buying and tearing down enough homes to create near-panic selling. In Chicago, that’s called blockbusting, and it is illegal when real estate agents use it to flip a racially changing neighborhood. But apparently it’s okay when Daley wants to use it for his “greater good.”

Bensenville has refused to issue demolition permits to Chicago to tear down the homes it owns and turn the area into something akin to a bombed-out city. Chicago has sued the village to permit the teardowns and the question is now in the courts.

That might have been the most egregious attack on Bensenville and Geils, but it certainly wasn’t the only one. Geils faced a multitude of personal attacks and once in a re-election campaign, he was ruled off the ballot for the most minor of technical errors. Still, he won by a write-in vote. In Springfield, the Legislature and others have targeted various Geils programs, such as combining the police and fire departments (among the handful of Illinois communities that have combined departments, only Bensenville was targeted). Daley’s strategy was to isolate Geils and Johnson, to make them appear to be small-town quacks that were standing in the way of progress. Much of the media and the public bought this slander.

Geils and Johnson now have a taste of justification. The communities hired some of the most knowledgeable and independent aviation experts in the nation, including a former acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, to analyze Daley’s expansion plans. Their criticisms of the plan now have been echoed by the airlines, which want out of future expansion plans, portions of what they called “ill-conceived.” United, in a letter to the FAA last summer, said, “Unfortunately, the city did not accept the more modest and financially prudent approach.”

Could that have been the approach that Geils and Johnson have long proposed: a “modest” O’Hare expansion that made more sense without the huge disruptions caused by Daley’s plan, along with a south suburban airport? That’s what anyone who’s interested in the welfare of the region would advocate. Daley won’t.

Time to support a better alternative to O’Hare Expansion

The airlines’ stinging rebuke (see below) to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s O’Hare expansion plans leaves an obvious question:

If O’Hare expansion isn’t the answer to the crowded skies over Chicago, what is?

The answer has been out there for decades: a new south suburban airport. And fortunately, the groundwork already has been laid. A commission of Chicago suburbs won agreement from two international public works developers to design, finance, build and operate the new airport—at virtually no public cost.

Sadly, Daley and his cronies have stymied those plans, so what could have already been is still a cornfield. It now will take a major shift in political, civic and business alliances to restart the project, if it is not too late. The economic downturn and the credit crunch may have cooled the developers’ interest—which had previously remained strong despite Daley’s assault on the project.

One of the first issues that needs to be settled is: Who would control the new airport? Interest for the new airport had stagnated while Daley was pushing O’Hare expansion, until a group of southern suburbs plus O’Hare neighbors Bensenville and Elk Grove Village got the project untracked. Under the bi-partisan leadership of Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. and the late Rep. Henry Hyde, the group formed a commission that was close to signing up the international developers, until Daley, seeing his cherished O’Hare jobs and contracts threatened by the competition, “put a brick on” the development.

In this, he rounded up a wide array of allies in the public and private sector, but in his most effective move, he created a competitor to the Jackson group. Will County, which had previously shown no interest in the airport, suddenly insisted that it, and not the Jackson group, had the exclusive authority to build the airport. Daley was able to work this magic because Democratic influence was growing in the previously solid Republican county, and whatever quid pro quos the powerful Democratic Chicago mayor could offer were eagerly sought and accepted there. Opposition to the Jackson plan was the price they willingly paid.

In an irrational and wasteful twist, the Illinois Legislature and the Illinois Department of Transportation, did the un-Solomon like thing and spilt the baby. Rejecting the developers who were on the doorstep and ready to begin, they gave the competing groups equal—as it were—standing to build and run the airport. Back to square one in the lengthy bureaucratic board game, the two now are seeking separate approvals from the FAA (which years ago had backed the project) and the state. So now the state has become so mired in “process” that the airport’s start is nowhere in sight—an outcome that suits Daley just fine, giving him time to make his O’Hare expansion a fait accompli.

One thing was wrong, however, with Daley’s scheme. The expansion plan was bound to fail of its own weight. He was blinded by his determination to hold on to O’Hare patronage and put too much faith in the yes-people who surrounded him, and assured him that the expansion was “doable.”

How now to re-energize the south suburban airport? The first gigantic hurdle is to get the major players who supported the expansion to admit that they were wrong. Daley might never do this, but the business, civic, media and labor community that so gladly fell in behind the mayor’s ego can perhaps turn the tide. They owe it to the body politic.

The Federal Aviation Administration, too, will have to reassert its expertise, instead of collapsing as it did before powerful political forces in the city, state and Washington that were aligned with Daley. The FAA years ago had said that the south suburban airport was the best solution, and nothing has changed to justify abandoning that position.

Now comes the hard part: Anything that happens will need state approval, and Illinois is so racked with mis- and mal-governance that it is hard to imagine rational decision-making ever happening. That state is $4 billion—almost $5 billion—in the red, and no solution is in sight. Perhaps the prospect of privately financed jobs and contracts—which will be so rare in the near future—would help them decide to back the new airport.

As for Daley, Jackson’s group had repeatedly said they would be glad to split the patronage with the mayor. It was a price they were willing to pay to move ahead with a solution that would be beneficial for the entire region. Sharing the spoils may look a bit more attractive to Daley now that the airlines have thrown a wrench into the O’Hare works. Then, again, sharing has never been one of Daley’s strong points.

Airlines at last say no to further O’Hare expansion

In a stunning reversal and a slap at Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s grandiose dream to expand O’Hare International Airport, the major carriers have rejected costly city plans for additional runways and terminals the airport.

The significance of the reversal, disclosed today by Chicago Tribune reporters Jon Hilkevitch and Julie Johnson, would be difficult to understate. In rejecting further expansion, the airlines have reversed their long-held support of Daley’s expansion plans, and now have sided with long-time critics. Among them were a former acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration and other prominent airline industry experts hired by expansion opponents to analyze the plans.

Aside from vindication for the opponents, the apparent delay, if not death, of the expansion plans raises significant questions for the Chicago region, now to be honestly faced. Chief among them is the fate of the proposed south suburban airport, which has been moldering on the drawing boards, thanks in great part to Daley’s opposition.

The airline’s opposition, expressed last summer to the FAA but hidden for months by the Daley administration from public view, also raises questions about who is to blame for this multi-billion-dollar fiasco. Only one runway has been built, set to open soon, which the city long had claimed would increase capacity, but which the FAA more recently said would only decrease delays, and by only a small amount at that. The list will be long, which will be explored at some more length on these pages.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Quashing low-fare competition at O’Hare

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

The upstart and lower-fare Virgin Airlines’ plans to initiate service at O’Hare Airport, and thus bring competition, more jobs and economic development to the Chicago area, appears jeopardized by the sweetheart deal between the Daley administration and the legacy airlines that control the airport.

Which raises the question: When will someone, especially in the business community that is so dependent on air travel, finally get mad on the lunatic ways of O’Hare Airport.

Virgin Airlines, which provides international service from both coasts, has been planning a major expansion into America’s heartland, with O’Hare as its base. But it has been stymied because it has been unable to lease gates at the airport, even though more than enough are sitting idle. Virgin said it will have to decide in a few weeks whether to cancel its O’Hare plans and look for another alternative. Meaning, I assume, another Midwest city in which to locate its hub.

The reason Virgin can’t secure one of those empty gates? Because the gates are controlled by United and American airlines, which have a lock on some 80 percent of O’Hare’s business. And how can they get away with a duopoly at O’Hare when the airline industry is supposedly deregulated?

Read more in The Chicago Daily Observer

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Why the rush on $2.5B Midway Airport deal?

Daley: Because I said so.

Good deal or not (read here) here, Greg Hinz is right: Anything in this town that's so rushed should raise grave suspicions.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Daley thinks it's his idea?

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley sounds like he came up with the idea of leasing a major airport. Chicago's south suburban airport, which he so fiercely opposed, would have been designed, financed, built and constructed by private contractors, without cost to taxpayers.

Good for the goose, but not the gander.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Chicago needs more airport capacity: FAA chief

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration says Chicago will either need to build a new airport or vastly expand one of its existing airports to keep pace with demand in the future, the Associated Press reported.

That is is addition to the $15-billion expansion of O'Hare Airport, and contradicts Mayo9r Richard M. Daley's repeated assertions that O'Hare expansion is all that is needed. If not for Daley's opposition, the new airport--the Abraham Lincoln Airport in the south suburbs--already would be up and running.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Andolino in Wonderland

O'Hare expansion moving forward, project leader says -- chicago

Rosemary Andolino, the project manager of O'Hare Airport expansion, says that everything is on schedule, despite it being two years behind schedule and the airlines say they won't pay for the second, most vital phase of the expansion.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The hypocrisy of affordable housing "advocates"

Not a peep was heard from them when Mayor Richard M. Daley set out to destroy DuPage County's largest and most vibrant community of low- and moderate-income families for O'Hare Airport expansion.

Read it in the Chicago Daily Observer.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Tens pounds of airplane in a five-pound bag

Here is an actual message sent from Orbitz to airline passengers who were delayed today while transferring flights at O'Hare Airport:

Passengers scheduled to arrive at Chicago O'Hare airport through the late evening may encounter delays averaging 45 minutes. The large number of flights scheduled to arrive at the airport exceeds the number of aircraft that can land hourly. This does not change your scheduled check-in time. Thank you for choosing Orbitz and have a good flight.
The answer, as aviation experts have said for years, isn't building new, inefficient runways at a small, 1950s style airport (O'Hare), but to build a new reliever airport in the south suburbs. If Mayor Richard M. Daley had not so jealously guarded his O'Hare jobs and contracts by using his political power to put a brick on the south suburb airport, it could already have been doing its job, easing traffic congestion at O'Hare.

Also posted in The Barbershop: Dennis Byrne, Proprietor

Saturday, July 26, 2008

More Problems at O’Hare Airport

If Mayor Richard M. Daley can’t get his phantasmagoric O’Hare Airport expansion plan completed in time for the 2016 Olympics, maybe he can get the Games postponed.

That’s because he has a better chance of getting the Olympics delayed than he has of realizing his airport expansion hallucination by then.

Read more in the Chicago Daily Observer

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Another near disaster at O'Hare

The first new O'Hare runway hasn't even opened yet, and the National Transportation Safety Board is reporting a near midair collision between two planes there.

While on-ground runway/taxiway incursions are the number one concern of aviation safety experts, it should be noted that the skies over O'Hare are near capacity. The difficulty of keeping approaching and departing planes separate was a principle reason that Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and federal aviation officials had agreed as far back as the 1980s to add airport capacity in the Chicago region in the southern suburbs.

That south suburban airport nearly became reality and could have been in operation today, relieving O'Hare delays and providing a safer alternative had not Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley used his political influence to halt the new airport because it would compete with O'Hare for jobs and contracts.

When it comes to airports, Chicago has never heard of safety first.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Stoplights at O'Hare. It's about time.

The folks at the Federal Aviation Administration--the geniuses who gave the green light to the ultra-extravagant and dangerous O'Hare Airport expansion--have come up with a way to help prevent the greatest threat to aviation safety: runway collisions.

They'll be installing stop and go lights at the intersections of runways and taxiways at O'Hare and 19 other busy airports. Stop lights; who would have thought of that? Especially when the FAA itself keeps repeating that the biggest aviation safety problem is on-ground collisions. Especially when the worst aviation disaster (excluding 9-11) was the collision of two packed airplanes on the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands, in which 583 people were killed. That puts the FAA about--what?--80 or 90 years behind traffic engineers.

So, despite the real on-ground problems, the FAA goes ahead and approves the massive O'Hare rebuilding in which more taxiing planes than ever will have to cross as many as two or more active parallel runways to get to and from the terminal gates. This is thanks to the new unprecedented six-parallel runway configuration, made necessary by trying to squeeze a 21st century airport into a small, 7,000-acre facility designed in the 1950s.

Think of all the stop lights at O'Hare. Think of how long it will then take to get to your gate. Good luck, fliers.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Lawyer for Chicago in O'Hare expansion project has ties to DuPage County chief

Friday, July 11, 2008

City pushes forward with lofty O'Hare plans

Who will pay for Phase 2 of Daley's O'Hare expansion plan when United and America say they won't pay for it?

You will.

See this Chicago Sun-Times analysis

This is stupid

Crain's Chicago Business reported* that Chicago is considering privatizing a portion of O'Hare Airport to raise as much as $800 million for airport expansion as expected major funding from United and American airlines is drying up.

Paul Volpe, the city’s chief financial officer, said in a letter to the two airlines that while the Daley administration hopes that the two will agree to pay for the second half of the $14-billion-plus expansion plan (they never did to start with), it "is confident that a practical funding plan that does not include the airlines is available to provide for timely completion."

Bensenville, Elk Grove Village and a bunch of other suburbs are entitled to a big, fat told-ya-so. When those communities unveiled their proposal for a south suburban airport, it would have been almost completely financed by the private sector. Two major international development companies were--and presumably still are--lined up to privately plan, finance, build and operate the airport, essentially without the same kind of taxpayer and airline money that was to fund O'Hare expansion. Nationally recognized aviation experts hired by the expansion opponents concluded that the same traditional funding mechanism would not work for O'Hare expansion.

The combination of bonding, passenger taxes, airline support and government grants simply would not provide enough money for the so-called O'Hare Modernization Program . The whole expansion would collapse for lack of money. This warning came even before the high increase in fuel costs that are driving the airlines into red ink.

If Mayor Richard M. Daley had not used his political clout to effectively delay, if not kill, the south suburban airport plan, traffic already could be using the airport, and O'Hare would not be the national laughing stock that it is now.

*May 23, 2008 article. Available only by paid subscription.