Seismic shifts in the politics of O'Hare expansion are on U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam's radar screen, but he says big questions remain unanswered on the merits of the project.
Roskam, whose district includes O'Hare International Airport, has steadfastly opposed the plan to build six parallel runways and a western terminal at the airport, along with the village of Bensenville and Elk Grove Village.
Now with Elk Grove Village dropping lawsuits against Chicago's expansion plan and a new Bensenville village president who wants to negotiate with the city, he's acutely aware the status quo is in flux.
While not embracing the project, "if it's moving forward, you've got to operate within the constraints of the real world," the Wheaton Republican said.
Regarding Elk Grove Village, Roskam said he is satisfied the concerns of the municipality are answered. The village fought O'Hare modernization and battled a related plan to widen Route 83 through its business park.
The widening would have been part of a western bypass around O'Hare connected with the Elgin O'Hare Expressway once it's extended to the airport. But the Illinois Department of Transportation eliminated the Route 83 option in April, triggering Elk Grove Village's change of heart.
However, as far as Bensenville's future relations with Chicago and the O'Hare project, "it seems more ambiguous," Roskam said.
Bensenville Village President Frank Soto was sworn in Tuesday. He has stated he wants to take a less combative approach with Chicago than his predecessor John Geils, in hopes of obtaining economic concessions from the city.
"The new leadership has to get its arms around what it wants to accomplish. There's a sense of transition right now," Roskam said, adding he hopes to meet with Soto soon.
"I want to see him do well and Bensenville do well. I want to be responsive to Bensenville and its needs."
But while Roskam will take his cue from Bensenville, he still is skeptical about the O'Hare project, citing issues with safety and how it will be paid for, given the economy and tough times for the aviation industry.
As a member of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, Roskam is in an influential position regarding future revenue for projects like O'Hare expansion. This year, Congress is expected to start negotiating surface transportation and Federal Aviation Administration funding bills.
At this point, he noted, "the plan in place has significant difficulties."