Photo © Lee Balgemann
Andolino: remaining opponents are few.

She brings to mind the blasts from the jet engines all around Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. Rosemarie Andolino, the executive director of the O’Hare Modernization Program, is a gust of information about the expansion of the airport in Chicago. Ask her for a fact of the project, such as the runway layout, and she has the answer immediately. Walk up to a segment of construction on the far western edge of the airfield and she describes in detail what is going on. Mention a negative of the project and she comes back with multiple positives. Recently, Midwest Construction Editor Craig Barner talked to Andolino about the remaining obstacles to the huge airport expansion and her career.

A great deal of sensitivity is needed for a project like the expansion of O’Hare because many people and municipalities oppose it. For example, according to a recent news report, Bensenville refused to even formally respond to a solicitation from Chicago to acquire some streets. Are you trying to maintain regular contact with people and organizations that are fighting the project to keep open dialogue and how?
First of all, there are only two communities left that oppose this program. When Mayor Daley appointed me to this position three years ago, he told me to always provide accurate information to the public, maintain a transparent Website and go meet with elected officials throughout the region and provide them with the facts about the program. And we’ve done just that. We have met with more than 200 locally elected officials and municipal organizations in the past three years to provide them with accurate information about this program and show them how a modernized O’Hare benefits their communities. There has been a lot of misinformation put out by our opposition about this program. So when we provide the real facts about the program, they are impressed. As a result, more than 140 mayors, municipal organizations and county boards have passed resolutions in support of this program. And we continue this outreach even though the program is approved and construction is ongoing.

Related Links:
  • Constructions Super Bowl 'Tackles' Infamous O'Hare Delays
  • You grew up in northwest suburban Elk Grove Village. It has been the second most vociferous in opposing the expansion of O’Hare after Bensenville. Do friends, family and acquaintances in Elk Grove complain about the project and how do you handle it?
    No. In fact I have received a tremendous amount of support from my family and friends in the suburbs–especially my parents who still reside in Elk Grove. I think that the majority of the people know about the economic benefits O’Hare brings to the region in terms of jobs and opportunities, both directly and indirectly. It’s all about location, location, location. Our suburban communities know that O’Hare is the economic engine for the region’s economy and most embrace it. The fierce competition for service at O’Hare fosters more choices for air passengers. And, because of O’Hare’s importance to the national aviation system, the surrounding communities have strong industrial parks, great schools and corporate headquarters located out there.

    Have you had to evoke eminent domain to acquire land or do you expect to do this?
    We have used eminent domain on a number of parcels thus far. With the exception of the parcels owned by the Village of Bensenville, all of those filings simply have to do with determining the purchase price of the properties. Thus far we have acquired 265 of the 611 parcels we need to acquire in Bensenville, and we have been contacted by nearly 500 property owners interested in selling their property to the city of Chicago.

    You have two key issues to resolve so the project can go forward as it is currently conceived: acquiring the rights for the land where St. Johannes Cemetery is located and getting the funding for the Lima Lima airfield taxiway. Do you think each will succeed?
    We are awaiting a decision from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on the challenge to our ability to take title to St. Johannes Cemetery. We are confident that we will be successful, just as we have been on every other legal challenge to this program. While we realize this is a sensitive issue, it is important to note that cemeteries have been acquired all over the country for public purpose. In Illinois, for example, a cemetery was relocated for the Eisenhower Expressway construction. Cemeteries have also been relocated for airport projects in St. Louis; Montgomery County, Tenn.; Manchester, N.H.; Montgomery, Ala.; and Toronto. Taxiway Lima Lima helps operations at certain demand levels. We are confident that when it is needed, we will secure the funding from our airline partners.

    You have worked in Chicago government for at least 16 years and in at least five city agencies, including the city council committee on transportation, Mayor Daley’s correspondence unit and the Department of Consumer Services. Besides the obvious things like the size of OMP, what is the key difference in this assignment compared with previous ones?
    There are a few important distinctions with this program as opposed to other city departments I have worked with. First, of the approximately 300 staff I manage, the vast majority are consultants instead of city of Chicago employees. Also, I didn’t oversee actual construction in my last position. In the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, we provided assistance in the form of Tax Increment Financing to stimulate developers to move ahead with manufacturing, commercial or residential construction projects. Here, I am responsible for the actual construction and execution of the project. Finally, there is a clear beginning and end to this project. Our program elements are clearly defined, and as we complete them, they are turned over to the Chicago Department of Aviation to maintain. When the program has been fully implemented, our department will essentially go away. The program is also unique in the sense that we are moving forward with one of the largest construction projects in the country, and it is being built on top of the world’s busiest airport.

    You have the facts, data and plans of O’Hare expansion at your fingertips. What element of your background prepared you most for such a demanding project?
    I have worked closely with elected officials for years. That experience taught me to always be prepared. But the best education has come from working for Mayor Daley. His expectations and overall knowledge of the city requires you to always be prepared and know all the details about your project because he is bound to inquire and challenge you on the issues related to your department. I feel strongly that you should have passion for what you do, you can never be over prepared, and if you don’t know the answer to a question, seek out your experts and find the answer.

    Construction is a male-dominated profession. This is not necessarily true anymore in the professions. For example, there are probably more female than male doctors under 40 years old now and there are more female than male undergraduate university students. But in construction and design, men still dominate, even among those who are under 40. Overall, men in construction are respectful of women in the field, but have you encountered sexism and how did you handle it?
    I haven’t encountered any resistance or push-back based on my gender. In fact, everyone has treated me with respect. I work hard to keep the lines of communication open and I have an open door policy in the office. And most of all I respect the talented people who work on this project, and I think it’s mutual. We are fortunate to have a lot of diversity on this project—both in the office and out in the field. We have made a strong commitment to achieving significant MBE/WBE participation, and that commitment is evident during our all-staff team meetings when I see the wonderful mix of people involved in all aspects of this project.