At the end of the battle

On March 23, 2010, City of Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino and newly-elected Village of Bensenville President Frank Soto stood on the site of the new runway at O’Hare Airport announcing the final settlement and start of demolition and construction.  With scores of construction vehicles digging, leveling, jack hammering, and clawing down building walls in the background, the two officials were center stage of the final act in the eminent domain fight.

“O’Hare expansion demolition begins in Bensenville” [1]

There may be moments when the correct-side and wrong-side of the eminent domain battle came in to sharp focus for some. However as with other cases there are those who have benefitted and there are those who have paid a disproportionate price. For air travelers the promised benefits of more flight options and more on-time schedules may be realized. The promised job increases, along with tax revenue increases for city and surrounding suburbs may also be having an impact on local economies. Although, no systematic analysis has been done since the expansion to document this impact. Certainly for Chicago politicians, most notably Mayor Richard M. Daley, the victory in the eminent domain case means continued city control of air traffic revenues. It means that the city has reaffirmed its political clout in the region and state.

The costs are the displacement and disruption to residents and businesses in Bensenville. Bensenville itself, while getting $16 million in the final settlement, now has a smaller population and smaller tax base.[2] Since the expansion, increased complaints about the noise resulting from the increased flights as well as reconfigured takeoffs and landings have developed.[3] While some observers have expressed sympathy, others have said that most people living near O’Hare have moved there since the airport was there and should expect these kinds of issues.

In some ways this is another example of eminent domain serving as a tool promoting modern society’s “progress” with all of its costs and benefits. Airports are at the heart of modern society’s economic and social lives. Consequently it should be expected that they will be a continuing source of political and social volatility. However, the shield of “progress” should not be used to obscure the fact that the owners of modest homes, individuals spending years of their lives building small businesses, and even the families of those buried in modest cemeteries have borne a disproportionate part of the cost of progress. The same cannot be said for the politicians of Chicago, or large corporations such as American Airlines, United Airlines, or FedEx. Eminent domain may facilitate progress, but it does not necessarily enhance equity in modern society.

[1] DailyHeraldClips, “O’Hare expansion demolition begins in Bensenville” YouTube video clip. March 24, 2010. Accessed March 13, 2016.

[2] Jon Hilkevitch, “Bensenville accepts $16 million to stop fighting O’Hare expansion,” Chicago Tribune. November 17, 2009. Accessed March 13, 2016.

[3] Jon Hilkevitch, “Bensenville residents sue over O’Hare noise,” Chicago Tribune. October 1, 2015. Accessed March 13, 2016.