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City Council panel OKs borrowing for O’Hare people mover extension, riverwak improvements

Planes tarmac O'Hare Airport Chicago outside International Terminal. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

Planes on the tarmac at O'Hare Airport in Chicago, outside the International Terminal. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: March 11, 2013 5:38PM

O’Hare Airport’s 20-year-old people mover system will get 15 new cars that double passenger capacity and a nearly half-mile extension to a new rental car campus and parking garage, thanks to bond issues advanced Monday.

After years of planning and debate, the City Council’s Finance Committee approved the $750 million borrowing, backed by a previously-approved fee tacked onto each rental car transaction at O’Hare.

In 2010, Chicago aldermen added $8 to the cost of renting a car at O’Hare to bankroll a $393 million facility that will consolidate airport rental car companies into a central location to make way for new runways.

At the time, City Hall described the $8 “customer facility charge” as a starting point and said the fee could go higher if the people mover was extended to the new rental car campus instead of simply consolidating the companies’ shuttle bus operations.

On Monday, the Finance Committee agreed to borrow the money needed to approve the $340 million extension, build the combined rental car complex and parking garage and purchase 15 new cars to double capacity — from 5,800 passengers-an-hour to 11,600.

The 2,000-foot people mover extension will end at Parking Lot F at the southeast corner of Mannheim and Zemke Roads and open in 2016.

The Emanuel administration has no plans to raise the $8-a-day fee on rental car transactions.

“The facility will provide approximately 4,100 equivalent rental car company spaces on levels one-through-three of the structure. A customer lobby will be located on Level 4, which will be adjacent to the [people mover] station. Approximately 3,000 public parking spaces will be constructed above the lobby level and offset the loss of surface parking spaces,” Chief Financial Officer Lois Scott told aldermen.

Also on Monday, the Finance Committee authorized a separate, $275 million borrowing — backed by gas tax revenues — to take advantage of a federal program that provides low-interest loans for transportation projects that might otherwise be delayed.

Roughly $96.5 million will be used to bankroll six blocks of riverwalk improvements — from State and Wacker to Lake and Wacker— tied to the third and final phase of the Wacker Drive reconstruction project.

“Right now, you have six blocks along the river where you can walk up and down the steps to get to down the riverwalk. What we’ll be doing is building out into the river 25 feet to accommodate more pedestrian walkways,” said Scott Kubly, managing deputy commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation.

“It will have under-bridge connections. You’ll be able to walk between each block without climbing up to the upper level of Wacker Drive. There will be additional locations for human-powered craft, which is a wonky term for a kayak or a canoe. If you have a kayak or a canoe or if you’d like to rent [one], you’ll be able to do so from the riverwalk. We’re planning for a zero-depth splash fountain similar to what’s in Millennium Park as well as some educational space.”

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