I ended the first leg of my Project Runways: Across America’s Airport Infrastructure in the best possible way – in Chicago, where on Friday July 15, I saw aviation commissioner Ginger Evans (ENR’s first female Award of Excellence winner for delivering Denver’s new airport in the 1980s) stand next to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and a host of Chicago’s political forces out on an airfield in O’Hare at a press conference. They announced agreements with major airlines on adding nine more gates to an existing terminal, and ultimately a brand-new terminal.

It’s already been a big year for the airport; $1.3-billion construction for a new runway and related airfield facilities is now underway after Evans negotiated with the major carriers. They agreed to the demolishing of an old diagonal runway that had acted like a “girdle” closing off land on the west side, she said. “Now we get 400 extra acres—a blank slate opportunity,” she told me.

Last month, the aviation department announced it would invest $350 million into building two new hotels and refurbishing an existing one on site.  In May, wait times in security lines reached 2 hours, causing a shake-up of local TSA staff and new canine teams. These have helped greatly, but still, the nation’s second-busiest airport needs these new airfield and terminal investments to truly solve the problem.

Evans, one of the many influential and inspiring women in the transportation world whom I’ve had the privilege to interview over the years (including her predecessor at O’Hare, Rosie Andolino), faced the barrage of reporter’s microphones, cameras and questions with aplomb, calling infrastructure investments a “gold mine” for all involved (many of the attendees at the briefing were labor union reps). She provided the engineering facts while Emanuel provided the political pizazz: Speaking of the increased competitiveness that the investments will bring, “New York, London, Berlin, Beijing – watch out, we’re coming for you,” he said.

In ENR's first August issue, an article will summarize the major plot points of the unique airport stories found in Houston, Dallas, Kansas City and Chicago.

I returned home after five flights in five days, all of which were miraculously on time. The flight to LaGuardia was initially delayed but the time was made up. Although I did end up with middle seats for a few of these flights, I experienced no squashing, screaming, smelliness or surliness from fellow passengers. Indeed, the aviation forces were smiling upon me as I flew from one fascinating airport visit to another. I hope this good luck will continue next month when I visit Salt Lake City, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Is that just a flight of fancy?