Deputy village manager James Johnson doesn't mind replaying his
"From the railroad tracks on, everything disappears," he says,
pointing two fingers down a commercial stretch of highway here in
Bensenville. A few blocks later, he drives to the back of a parking
lot. "That runway ends right about where that white truck is."
Mr. Johnson isn't the only one on edge about expansion plans for
Chicago's O'Hare airport. The push to nearly double the airport's
capacity has pitted congressman against congressman and forged
At issue: whether the nation's need for more airport space trumps
local concerns about disrupted neighborhoods and the effects of
noise and pollution.
From a national perspective, the plan sounds tempting. O'Hare-
expansion supporters are even pushing federal legislation that would
prohibit the state from blocking the airport's expansion. Many
cities - from Los Angeles to Miami - in similar straits may be
encouraged to follow suit.
'Political struggle for control'
But the battle over O'Hare - the nation's busiest airport - is
more complicated than it may first appear. Power politics, city
revenues and jobs, and airline interests all play a role. "The
struggle has been a political struggle for control, not for solving
the aviation crisis," says Frank Watkins, press secretary for US
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D) of Illinois.
No one denies that delays are one of the key factors hurting the
nation's air-travel network. In 2000, eight of the nation's 31 major
airports experienced significant delays, according to the Federal
Aviation Administration (FAA). And delays at just one airport ripple
through the system.
True, the Sept. 11 attacks and recession reduced air travel last
year, but the long-term problem remains. By 2010, the severe-delay
list is projected to consist of O'Hare, Los Angeles International,
Philadelphia, San Francisco, and all three New York-area airports.
"There's a continuous challenge ... to add capacity where it's
needed," says William Shumann, an FAA spokesman.
That's why Chicago Mayor Richard Daley announced last year a plan
to add a new runway to O'Hare and the reconfiguration of others. The
idea got a boost in December, when Illinois Gov. George Ryan agreed
to the plan in exchange for Mr. Daley's support for building a third
area airport in Peotone, south of the city.
The legislation to further the expansion plan has bipartisan
support: Governor Ryan is a Republican; Daley and US Rep. …