New Runway, Tower Open at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport

The successful completion of Runway 10R-28L at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, the world’s busiest airport and a well-known hub for connecting flights, is the latest milestone of the $8 billion O’Hare Modernization Program (OMP).

new runway, Chicago O'Hare National Airport

With completion of O’Hare’s newest runway, the airport now has five parallel east-west runways.

Completion of the $516 million project, which added another east-west runway to O’Hare’s south airfield, was marked at an Oct. 15 commissioning ceremony.

In addition, the completion of the $41 million South Airport Traffic Control Tower (SATCT), which provides air traffic controllers a modern tower with full line-of-site views of the new southern runway, was also celebrated. The South Tower is the third tower at O’Hare, and the second constructed as part of the OMP.

Efficient Runways

For more than a decade, WSP USA has served as construction manager to the City of Chicago Department of Aviation for the OMP, a program that, to date, has successfully completed the construction of four new runway components and two air traffic control towers.

WSP was the construction manager for three new runways at O’Hare:

  • Runway 9L-27R, completed in November 2008;
  • Runway 10C-28C, completed in October 2013; and
  • Runway 10R-28L, completed in October 2015.

The firm also worked on a 3,000-foot extension of O’Hare’s most active runway, Runway 10L-28R, which was completed in September 2008.

South Air Traffic Control Tower

The new South Airport Traffic Control Tower was built to achieve LEED Gold standards.

The OMP transformed O’Hare from an intersecting system of runways to a more efficient system of parallel runways, thus increasing the airport’s capacity, reducing delays and meeting the anticipated demand well into the future.”

Towers Designed for Sustainability

O’Hare operated with one control tower until November 2008, when a second tower, the North Airport Traffic Control Tower, was commissioned. The opening of the new South Tower in October gives O’Hare three Federal Aviation Administration-certified towers.

“Both towers were constructed with sustainability in mind, from design through construction,” said Thomas Lyon, construction manager for WSP. “The North Tower was the first-ever certified LEED Silver air traffic control tower, while the south tower is expected to achieve LEED Gold standards.”

The control towers include green roofs on the base buildings. Additionally, both towers included sustainable items such as high-efficiency components, recyclable materials, local materials and low-emitting materials. The South Tower incorporated a geothermal system of heating and cooling. “Both towers incorporated innovations not previously seen in air traffic control towers and will hopefully influence the construction of future towers,” Lyon said.

“Ninety-nine percent of the material stayed on site instead of being hauled away, and was reused wherever possible,” said Marge Lauer, principal-in-charge. Recycling measures were extended to the runway projects as well, where concrete was crushed into aggregates and reused whenever possible.

Collaboration Is Key

For the largest airport construction program in the U.S., collaboration was critical. Most of the firms and personnel were involved from the start, working in the same office as the OMP team.

“With so many stakeholders, it is imperative to get everyone focused on the common goal,” Lyon said. “When coordination occurs up front, it gives all stakeholders the ability to provide input and gives sufficient time for the airport community to adjust.”

“There was trust built between the construction manager and the contractors that we’ve been able to maintain over the past 10 years,” Lauer added. “They knew what to expect from us, and we knew what to expect from them.”

key member, O'Hare modernization program team

WSP led the construction management team on the O’Hare Modernization Program that constructed three new runways, a runway extension, and two new air traffic control towers over the past 10 years.

Transforming O’Hare

A few components still remain to complete the OMP, including construction of Runway 9C-27C and the extension of Runway 9R-27L.

Lyon reflected on the changes he has witnessed over the years.

“I remember looking at O’Hare back in June 2005 when we first started, thinking that it was already a huge airport. And it certainly was,” Lyon said. “But now to see how the program transformed O’Hare, and how much the airport has grown with three new runways, is simply amazing.”

“It was a huge feat, construction-wise,” Lauer added. “Equally impressive is that we were able to accomplish this without any interruption in service, and little-to-no impact to airport operations.”

The expectation is that more efficient service, fewer delays, and a better overall travel experience will keep O’Hare competitive in the global aviation marketplace and serve as a catalyst for sustained economic growth and job creation.


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