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City snags $288 million federal loan to upgrade O’Hare people mover system

An artist's rendering  long-awaited intermodal facility O’Hare Airport.

An artist's rendering of the long-awaited intermodal facility at O’Hare Airport.

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Updated: September 25, 2013 6:08AM

An $800 million plan to double the capacity of O’Hare Airport’s people mover system—and extend it to a rental car campus and parking garage that will ease roadway congestion—inched closer to reality Friday.

It happened after City Hall closed on a $288 million federal loan that will finally allow work to begin on the long-awaited intermodal facility at O’Hare.

“This is really a great customer convenience. It’s a one-stop shop for all of our customers, building on the mayor’s plan to make Chicago a best-in-class facility,” Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino said.

The project is expected to create 3,000 temporary design and construction jobs, 100 permanent concession jobs and ease congestion in the terminal core by eliminating an estimated 1.3 million vehicle trips each year.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the intermodal facility “one of the largest capital improvements” ever build at O’Hare — with the exception of new runways — and a boon to his efforts to make O’Hare the world’s “most convenient international travel” hub.

“By utilizing innovative federal financing for this project, we are driving economic growth and job creation, while ensuring that O’Hare is at the forefront of sustainability, efficiency and productivity,” the mayor was quoted as saying in a press release.

The $288 million federal loan is being made available to the city under the so-called Transportation Finance Innovation Act, created to bankroll infrastructure projects of “regional or national significance” that might otherwise be delayed.

Chicago’s got a similar, $99 million loan, for a riverwalk project that will transform a six-block stretch of the downtown Chicago Riverfront into an enticing public space that, Emanuel hopes, will someday rival Millenium Park.

Three years ago, the City Council tacked $8 onto the cost of renting a car at O’Hare to bankroll the campus that will consolidate airport rental car companies into a central location to make way for new runways.

At the time, City Hall said the fee would go higher if the people mover was extended to the rental car campus instead of simply consolidating the companies’ shuttle bus operations.

On Friday, Andolino was asked whether the $8 fee would have to be increased to retire the federal loan and airport bonds used to finance the massive project.

“I don’t believe so. Our numbers, our estimates and what has been reviewed by the rating agencies is based off a flat, $8 fee,” she said.

“What’s going to go up is ridership. Over 30,000 people per day will be utilizing this facility. We’re collecting about $32 million a year right now. In 2022, we estimate $40 million at the same $8 rate. From what we see right now, we’ve very confident that an $8 fee will hold for the entire program over a 30 year period.”

The people mover will be extended to Parking Lot F at the southeast corner of Mannheim and Zemke, where a new station will be built.

The intermodal facility will also house a new economy parking structure to be shared by 4,100 rental car spaces and 2,000 public spaces with convenient access to an existing Metra station.

The people mover extension is expected to be completed in 2016. The upgrade includes the purchase of 15 new people mover cars, doubling the existing fleet.

The $137.8 million people mover system opened in 1993 to ease roadway congestion at O’Hare with a capacity of 2,400 passengers-an-hour.

The system currently includes five stations and 2.7 miles of double guideway connecting three domestic terminals, the international terminal and remote parking facilities.


Twitter: @fspielman

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