Work is advancing on the $300-million ElevateT3 project at Chicago O’Hare International Airport’s Terminal 3 with construction manager at-risk COT3, a joint venture of Clark Construction Group LLC and W.E. O’Neil Construction Co. Meanwhile, the start of work on a separate project to rebuild Terminal 2 as a “Global Terminal” with added satellite concourses remains delayed amid reported cost concerns.

The Terminal 3 project is planned to upgrade passenger amenities, security screening areas and accessibility for passengers with disabilities in the 85-gate terminal which originally opened in 1962 and was renovated in the 1980s, according to the Chicago Dept. of Aviation. Work planned as part of the project includes reconfiguration of two Transportation Security Administration checkpoints into one screening area with room for modern equipment, expansion of a corridor between concourses K and L, expansion of waiting areas at some gates, reconfiguration of the baggage claim area and upgrades to baggage systems, renovations to concessions areas and restrooms plus energy efficiency improvements.

Construction is planned to occur in phases that will allow Terminal 3 to remain open during the renovations. 

The airport is posting bidding information for subcontractors online. The site also includes bidding opportunities for work on a slate of other projects planned under the $8.5B O’Hare 21 effort, which is aimed at modernizing and expanding the airport.

Construction of ElevateT3 is scheduled to be completed in 2027. 

The project team has set a range of disadvantaged-business enterprise goals varying for specific trades, as well as commitments to hire Chicago residents, particularly people living near the project area north of downtown Chicago.

“We intend to work with our partners in the construction community to transform developments like this into opportunities to build capacity and ultimately generational wealth among small, diverse business owners across Chicago’s 77 community areas,” said Jamie Rhee, Chicago Dept. of Aviation commissioner, in a statement. 

The work was funded in part with $90 million in grants from a program created through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to improve airport terminals. The Federal Aviation Administration awarded $50 million to the project last year and another $40 million this year. The entire O'Hare 21 project was paused during the pandemic but Chicago has insisted that the airport's debt, refinanced in 2020, is rated high enough to not cause a burden to a bond issue for any part of the project.

“This project will have a significant impact on the people who travel in and out of Chicago O’Hare and change the lives of those in the Chicago community as a whole,” said Shannetta Griffin, FAA associate administrator for airports, in a statement.

Global Terminal

Construction of the Terminal 3 project had originally been scheduled to start after work on another O’Hare 21 project, which would rebuild and expand Terminal 2 into the so-called Global Terminal, which is planned to include both domestic and international gates. At the time the FAA signed off on the Global Terminal plan in 2022, construction was slated to start in the spring of 2023. That did not happen. 

The 2.2-million-sq-ft terminal designed by a joint venture led by Studio Gang would double the space of the current Terminal 2. 

The Global Terminal project is estimated to cost $1.5 billion more than what Chicago officials initially planned for prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chicago Sun-Times reported in November. United and American Airlines have balked at the increasing cost and want to scale down the project, according to the report. 

Earlier this month, city officials proposed to airlines that the construction sequencing could be altered to accelerate completion of the full project, including the Global Terminal and satellite concourses, the Chicago Tribune reported

Earlier this month, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) wrote a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg asking for the U.S. Dept. of Transportation to call a meeting between officials and the airlines so they can reach an agreement to advance the project. Durbin indicated that airlines have advocated for a plan that would eliminate or delay one of the satellite concourses. However, he wrote that any agreement “must include the 25% gate capacity increase” that was included in the original plan to meet projected growth.

United and American representatives did not immediately respond to inquiries.

Durbin told reporters at a press conference April 22 to celebrate the groundbreaking for Terminal 3 that negotiations have continued and “the conversation is going in the right direction,” the Sun-Times reported