Chicago Mayor Seeking Bailout Money for $15 Billion Airport Albatross

Now that Governor Rod Blagojevich is, politically speaking, pushing up daises, attention in the Land of Lincoln is going to be drawn to efforts by Chicago's Mayor Daley to latch on to a portion of the coming "stimulus package" in order to fund his dream of expanding O'Hare Airport.

Never mind that no one wants to pay for it -- including the city, the county, the state, the airlines, the taxpayers, or, until now, the federal government. Never mind that the FAA's own studies show that the expansion will not relieve the heavily congested runways or mitigate the problem with delays. Never mind that getting around the expanded airport would be a nightmare for passengers, some of whom would be forced to take an hour-long shuttle ride from one parking lot to the American Airlines terminal. Never mind that an airplane that lands on the northern runway will have to taxi 45 minutes to get to the United terminal. And never mind that hundreds of residents from tiny Bensenville, IL, have already been forcibly removed from their homes despite the fact that the next phase of the expansion is in financial limbo and may never be completed.

No one contests the idea that the traffic problems at O'Hare are serious and must be addressed. Anyone who has spent an hour on a runway waiting to take off or circled the airport for even longer waiting to land cannot deny that what once was "the busiest airport in the world" has become a quagmire of delays, impossibly long lines for security, and a traffic nightmare guaranteed to give even the most even tempered driver a severe case of road rage.

But Hizzoner, for personal, political, and financial reasons, insists that expanding O'Hare is just the ticket. And when Mayor Richard Daley gets it in his head that something is absolutely necessary for his beloved city, he can be a fearsome force with which to tangle. You don't cross Daley in Chicago unless you're on pretty solid footing, which is why he has a legion of opponents who are making his life miserable by trying to block the expansion.

The reasons not to spend $15 billion to grow O'Hare to an impossibly large size include alternatives that are cheaper or make more sense for the region. But in the case of Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., there's an equally unworthy project on which money can be wasted: another airport.

The feud between Daley and Jackson is very personal. Jackson said some nasty things a few years ago about Daley's legendary father, Richard J. Daley, that didn't sit well with the current incarnation of the mayoral dynasty. And Jackson's wife has been a thorn in the side of Daley from her perch on the city council, where she serves as alderman of the seventh ward.  Jesse Jackson Sr. also had an uncomfortable relationship with Daley, as the good Reverend's power base among the south side African American community reveres the memory of former mayor Harold Washington, the only African American ever elected mayor in Chicago and the only man ever to defeat a Daley in a Democratic primary (1982).

Proving that anyone can propose wasting a bushel full of taxpayer money if one has enough gumption, Jackson Jr. went Daley one better and has made it his mission in life to build a whole new airport in the south suburbs near Peotone. If Jackson gets his way, his proposed land grab in Peotone would be three times larger than O'Hare. It would turn 24,000 acres of the richest, most productive farm land in the world into a white elephant of an airport. The FAA and the state of Illinois have other ideas and current plans -- still subject to change -- now call for a much more modest project.