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O'Hare, Airlines Both Win as Feds Waste Money on an Expensive Expansion Project

The fight between Chicago's O'Hare airport and its airlines has come to a happy resolution. Who won? Both of them did, now that the federal government has decided to throw money at the problem. I know the administration is big on infrastructure projects, but this one seems like a waste of resources.

You may recall that the airport wanted to go ahead with its expansion plans while the two biggest airlines at the airport -- American (AMR) and United (UAL) -- wanted to put the brakes on. The expansion was already in progress, but the airlines said that the work that had already been done would be enough to fill their needs for the foreseeable future. They didn't want to put more money into a project that was unnecessary now.

The city, however, said that it needed the new project to meet long-run traffic demand. The project was only expected to get more expensive, so why not do it now? The feds stepped in to arbitrate.

But instead of arbitrating, it looks like the feds fell for the oldest trick in the book. They've decided that instead of helping find a way for the city and airlines to do this responsibly, they would just throw some money into the pot to make it happen.

On top of the more than $1 billion already into the pot from the feds, another $155 million was thrown into the mix by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, someone with deep Illinois ties. This helped convince the airlines to agree to the issuance of new bonds. But all is not done. Plans for one more runway and a runway extension remain to be finalized. Those negotiations will be extended until 2013, long after Mayor Richard Daley has left office with his "legacy" of modernizing O'Hare secure. The rest of the expansion will be someone else's problem.

In the long run, I'm sure a new runway will benefit the city of Chicago, but did we need the feds to throw in an extra $155 million to make it happen now? It's just a drop in the bucket, for sure, but it's also an unnecessary investment.

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Photo via Flickr user -Tripp-/CC 2.0
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