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Daley Meets With Airlines, But No Deal Yet On O’Hare Expansion

O'Hare International Airport

O’Hare International Airport (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

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Updated 02/09/11 – 6:50 p.m.

WASHINGTON (CBS) – Mayor Richard M. Daley met with executives from United and American airlines on Wednesday, but reached no agreement on funding the second phase of a $15 billion expansion of O’Hare International Airport.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Daley said he had “a candid conversation” with United Airlines CEO Jeffery Smisek and American Airlines CEO Gerard Arpey in Washington, D.C.

But the mayor and the airlines have yet to reach a deal on moving forward with the second phase of the O’Hare Modernization Program, a $15 billion plan to expand and reconfigure O’Hare’s runway system.

“Now, members from the United States Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration, the airlines and the City continue to meet and I look forward to a solution that will benefit everyone involved,” Daley said in a statement.

The mayor was originally scheduled to meet with the airline executives last week, but the airlines canceled due to the blizzard.

Daley complained last week that the airlines seemed to be avoiding him and trying to put off talks about O’Hare until he leaves office.

In a joint statement following Wednesday’s meeting, the two airlines said they and the city remain far apart and that they were “unable to reach an agreement that would permit us to suspend our litigation.”

Daley’s trip to the nation’s capital to meet with CEOs from American and United signals the project to boost capacity at O’Hare is a priority in the final weeks of his administration.

O’Hare is one of the country’s busiest and most congested airports. And city officials argue that finishing a second phase of expansion, which would include a new runway and terminal, will help reduce delays in Chicago and throughout the U.S. air-transport system.

The first phase of the project culminated with the completion of a new runway and a control tower in 2008. A plane carrying Daley and other VIPs was the first to officially touch down on the stark white concrete as part of runway-opening ceremonies.

Airlines, however, have balked at footing most of the bill for more upgrades, saying they will benefit little. Daley counters the airlines are being short-sighted, and last week, he suggested that they might be biding their time until he leaves office in May.

Daley is closely associated with dozens of ambitious, mega-sized projects, including the development of a park that hugs Michigan Avenue, called Millennium Park. But Daley has clearly viewed O’Hare expansion a signature project from his 22 years as mayor, and he has talked about it as being critical to Chicago’s economic future.

Still, most mayoral candidates vying to replace him have also been vocal supporters, including Rahm Emanuel, President Barack Obama’s former chief of staff.

In his Wednesday statement, Daley merely alluded to what he called a “candid conversation” with airline executives. He said he looked “forward to a solution that will benefit everyone involved.”

A lack of money hasn’t been the only obstacle.

The small suburb of Bensenville engaged in a David-and-Goliath legal battle for years to stop Chicago from bulldozing more than 500 homes in the path of one runway project. It finally agreed to give up the fight two years ago in exchange for a one-off, multimillion payment.

There has also been litigation over cemeteries on land that would become part of an expanded O’Hare. Last month, city officials said they hope to resume unearthing bodies soon at one the cemetery, despite the continued opposition of some who have relatives buried there.

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