Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has kicked hundreds of families out of their homes and relocated a cemetery full of buried bodies to build a whopping $15 billion airport expansion Chicago residents oppose, airlines don’t want and he doesn’t have the money to build.
The kicker is that Daley stands a solid chance of getting a good chunk of the boondoggle funded in Washington's forthcoming stimulus bill under Barack Obama’s pledge to dramatically increase infrastructure spending.
The “O’Hare Modernization Project,” signed by disgraced Governor Rod Blagojevich in 2003, has enabled the city to seize 433 acres of land from surrounding villages under a special “quick-take authority” power given to Daley by the state. The city even uprooted a 108-year old cemetery, requiring families to find a new home for the 1,500 bodies resting there, in the process of taking some of its first tracts of land.
Bensenville, a middle class suburban community that borders the airport on the south and west corners, is one of those villages. So far, the city of Chicago has taken 600 parcels of land from Bensenville, representing 15 percent of the village’s total area. 533 of those parcels were single-family homes. Approximately 90 of them were businesses.
“It’s all been snatched up,” said Bensenville City Manager Jim Johnson, who opposes the project. Johnson is now trying to prevent the demolition of those homes because proper guarantees have not been made for the health and safety of the community.
While that battle is being waged in court, all that’s left are essentially vacant buildings, many of them livable homes in good condition. [Click here to see a web video of the area.]
Last fall, OMP completed its first phase, which involved the construction of a new $565 million runway and tower on the airport’s north side. At the time, airlines seemed supportive of the project in public appearances and threw a lavish party to celebrate in September. The festivities included outdoor tents pitched on the runway, refreshments. Mayor Daley even timed his speech so that a plane would land during the address—a grandiose move mocked by local reporters.
“That’s United,” Daley said during his speech. “I want to thank them for landing during my speech. Perfect. That’s a great shot for TV.”
Behind-closed doors, however, airlines were unsupportive of the project, calling it “inappropriate” and “ill-conceived” in letters to the Federal Aviation Administration. American, United, Delta, Northwest Airlines, Continental Airlines and ANA-All Nippon told the FAA the plan was flawed in documents obtained by the Chicago Tribune in November.