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City Delays Bonds For O’Hare Expansion

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O'Hare International Airport (Credit: Frank Polich/Getty Images)

O’Hare International Airport (Credit: Frank Polich/Getty Images)

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CHICAGO (CBS/WBBM) – A lawsuit by the airlines is clipping the wings of the city’s plans to expand O’Hare International Airport.

As WBBM Newsradio 780’s Nancy Harty reports, the City of Chicago has delayed issuing bonds for expansion at O’Hare International Airport, while city officials and airlines argue over the merits of going forward.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780′s Nancy Harty reports

The city has now put off a $1 billion bond sale to pay for runway construction, because of a lawsuit filed by American and United airlines. The airlines are trying to avoid being strapped with more long-term debt.

The airlines say they can’t afford the billions in fees needed to pay for more runways, and passenger demand isn’t there right now.

But the city has already filed a motion asking a judge to dismiss the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, as WBBM Newsradio 780′s Nancy Harty reports, the chief executive officers of United and American airlines met with Illinois U.S. senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) in Washington on Thursday to find potential agreement with the city about the next phase of O’Hare expansion.

“It was a very positive meeting,” Durbin told CBS 2’s Walter Jacobson Thursday. “We understand the importance of these two airlines to the future of O’Hare. They understand the importance of O’Hare to Illinois, and their economic future.”

The senators are not taking sides in the debate between the city and the airlines, according to Kirk.

“We’re not going to take any position between the two sides,” Kirk said. “I think Senator Durbin and I want to be the most effective mediators so that we can accomplish objectives we all share. We want the aviation business at O’Hare to improve.”

The city’s decision to stall the bonds comes just a day after an Illinois Supreme Court decision cleared the way for further expansion at O’Hare.

The Supreme Court refused to review a lower court decision allowing the city to move about 1,000 graves from St. Johannes Cemetery in Bensenville, which is in the path of a new runway.

The O’Hare Modernization Program calls for building one new runway, extending another runway and relocating a third. A new northern runway opened in November 2008.

But overall, the $15 billion expansion project is less than halfway done.

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