CHICAGO, IL – Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) today spoke out against his colleague Rep. Mark Kirk’s (R-IL) comments in the Chicago Tribune suggesting that Illinois’ share of the Stimulus Package be used to expand O’Hare. Rep. Kirk voted against the Stimulus Package that would bring US$22 billion to Illinois and instead suggested that the government fully fund the US$20 billion O’Hare Modernization Program.
“At a time when citizens all throughout our state are in desperate need of an economic life raft, Congressman Kirk’s plan leaves our citizens stranded at O’Hare,” said Rep. Jackson.
“The Stimulus Package approved by Congress would bring US$22 billion to Illinois to modernize schools, repair roads, improve hospitals, and put people to work. Congressman Kirk prefers giving that money to the O’Hare Modernization Program – thus depriving children, seniors, and needy people of vital services.”
Rep. Jackson went on to say, “There is a better alternative for adding 100,000 flights per year to Illinois. O’Hare expansion will cost US$20 billion. The proposed Abraham Lincoln National Airport would add the same number flights for a fraction of the cost – about US$500 million. And that money comes from private investors – not taxpayers.”
Work on the next phase of the O’Hare expansion has not begun and funding for the US$20 billion program has not been secured. FAA studies show that the expansion will not provide any significant improvement of airline delays or alleviate congestion at O’Hare. Aviation experts say that OMP will instead produce massive delays and increase costs for both consumers and airlines during and after initial construction. In addition, the airlines, including United Airlines and American Airlines, have called the OMP plan “ill-conceived” and “premature.”
Corruption and Scandal Surrounds O’Hare Expansion
Federal prosecutors have indicted Chris Kelly, president and owner of BCI Commercial Roofing, accusing him and his company of paying at least US$450,000 in kickbacks to a consultant. It was allegedly part of a scheme to fraudulently obtain US$8.5 million in inflated contracts for projects. Last night, prosecutors said the projects dealt with two major airlines, United and American, at O’Hare International Airport. Kelly was the chief fundraiser in Rod Blagojevich’s two campaigns for governor and both Kelly and former Governor Blagojevich were strong supporters of the O’Hare Modernization Program (OMP).
“Sadly this is business as usual with the OMP project; kick backs, corruption, and special favors and money for political cronies,” said Bensenville Village president John Geils. “I’m just one of many who have seen this project for what it is, a US$20 billion boondoggle designed to raise funds and reward politician’s friends with financial gain.”
The O’Hare Modernization Project has been criticized for fundamental design flaws, including planes having an additional 45-minute taxi time due to major airport choke points, long rides between terminals – often longer than the scheduled time of a flight – and baggage transfer issues from one terminal to the next. Air Traffic Control experts have also questioned the overall safety of the plan.
“I find it ironic that the two major O’Hare airlines who objected to continuing the OMP plan were also the victims of this kickback scheme,” said Terry Brunner of the Aviation Integrity Project. “O’Hare Airport has been the source for years of corruption schemes and illegal endeavors, and the modernization program sits squarely in the middle of a lot of that kind of activity.”
Joe Karaganis, a local attorney who battled the City of Chicago against the O’Hare Management Program, commented, “An impeached governor supported the OMP project, a jailed former governor supported the OMP project, and who knows how many other objects of federal investigation were part of the corruption that takes place surrounding the airport and OMP. I know this, it [is] certainly another reason to reconsider what is easily the most absurd, expensive, and useless waste of US$20 billion in taxpayer funds anyone has ever seen.”