O'Hare earthwork is on the move.
(Photo courtesy of Gerry Alvarez/OMP)

A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., has denied public-interest claims that the Chicago airport project should be shut down. The proposed work includes relocating a nearby cemetery.

Religious opponents sued the Federal Aviation Administration on Sept. 30 because FAA gave Chicago a green light to start construction. The court issued a stop work order pending a review of the case, hours after the city broke ground.

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  • FAA and the city filed reams of paperwork opposing the lawsuit, including a statement from O'Hare's DMJM-led program manager. It said that delays could cost Chicago up to $6.1 million per month.

    The court denied the motion to stop the project on Oct. 25, and construction continued two days later. "It took our guys about a day or so to get ramped up," says Roderick Drew, spokesman for the O'Hare Modernization Program.

    Chicago restarted Kiewit's $125.9-million contract to grade approximately 3.2 million cu yd of earth for a new, 7,500-ft-long runway. Kiewit also has in the works a smaller, $19.8-million contract to relocate an airport access road.

    O'Hare officials expect the first phase of the expansion to wrap up in 2008. Chicago estimates total costs for the modernization program at $6.6 billion, as part of the airport's overall $14.8-billion, 20-year master plan.

    Meanwhile, the litigants still threaten to shut down the project. They re-filed a two-year-old lawsuit against the FAA and the city in Illinois federal court on Oct. 27. It alleges that the airport expansion "runs afoul of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act." The statue says that government cannot impose a "substantial burden" on religious exercise.

    The group plans to move for a stop-work injunction within days. "By no means is the nail in the coffin for the cemetery's case," says Jared Leland, spokesman for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Washington, D.C. The non-profit is representing the O'Hare opponents, which include a church, two Chicago-area suburbs and three private individuals.

    iewit Western Co. resumed site preparation Oct. 27 for O'Hare International Airport's $15-billion expansion program, after nearly one month of litigation delays. But a pending lawsuit still threatens to halt construction.