Feds officially approve the massive expansion of O’Hare terminals

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Monday talks about an ambitious revamp of O'Hare International Airport that includes replacing Terminal 2.

The Federal Aviation Administration has officially approved a massive redo of O’Hare that will mean new terminals, gates, hotels and development on the western side of the airport.

O’Hare International Airport “is an absolute powerhouse and in turn makes Chicago and Chicagoland a powerhouse for the American economy,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said at a briefing Monday in Terminal 2.

The $12 billion capital program “will replace this very terminal we’re in – the oldest facility at O’Hare,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.

Known as the Airport Terminal Project, its blockbuster feature is a $2.2 billion Global Terminal that will accommodate domestic and international airlines with customs and immigration services. The billowy, Y-shaped design, created by a team led by Chicago architect Jeanne Gang, incorporates glass, wood and steel and will be twice the size of Terminal 2.

A tunnel will connect the Global Terminal to two concourses on the west side of the airport, intended to be double the size of existing ones and able to fit wide-bodied planes. Overall, the construction should add 22 gates to O’Hare with the airport’s capacity expected to increase by 25% to 100 million passengers per year by 2026.

Also included are two new hotels, one at Terminal 5 and a second to be built as a multi-use complex off Mannheim Road.

The least glamorous element also is the most consequential one to many suburbs. The city proposes to open an entrance to O’Hare’s west side that connects with the Interstate 490 and Route 390 toll roads under construction.

This project will include an eight-level parking structure for employees and an employee screening facility with transport to terminals.

The FAA’s approval “gives us a clear path forward to start construction on the Terminal Area Plan which includes Satellite Concourses 1 and 2 and the O’Hare Global Terminal, the centerpieces of the capital improvement program we call O’Hare 21,” Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Jamie L. Rhee said.