Credit: federal aviation administration

Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is the nation's second busiest airport, with more than 69 million passengers passing through in 2008. To accommodate the passenger load and improve the airport, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley presented the O’Hare Modernization Program (OMP) in 2003. The O’Hare Modernization Act subsequently was signed into law, reinforcing Daley’s vision for making Chicago America’s greenest city.

The OMP sets goals and evaluates, rates, and encourages achievements in sustainable design. Designed to define the green goals of the project, the OMP Sustainable Design Manual is modeled after the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system and applies green standards to civil construction projects. Its “Green Airplane Certification” project ranking and certification process awards design and construction teams for sustainability achievements in building and in practice. The program awards up to five Green Airplanes.

On the whole, the OMP encompasses building one new runway, relocating three existing runways, extending two existing runways, creating a new western airport entrance, and constructing an additional 1.5 million square feet (139,350 m2) of terminal complex.

The OMP also includes a new North Air Traffic Control Tower (shown above) featuring a cantilevered design to give controllers unobstructed airfield views. The tower garnered four out of five OMP Green Airplanes, making it among the highest-rated OMP projects. The administrative base building includes a 10,000-square-foot (929-m2) vegetated roof. More than half of construction waste was recycled or salvaged and diverted from landfills. In addition, at least 20 percent of building materials came from local sources. Low-VOC paints, sealants, and coatings are used throughout; dual-flush toilets are installed; drywall controls moisture and eliminates mold; and the building contains 5 percent recycled materials.

Larger-than-standard glass panes eliminate window frame structures to provide unobstructed runway views and panes are positioned at a 30-degree angle rather than the standard 15-degree angle. Combining this with an overhanging roof structure protects the control room cab from direct sunshine, eliminates reflections, and keeps windows dry during normal rainfall.

Sustainable initiatives continue beyond the control tower. All construction vehicles with more than 50 horsepower are required to use ultra­low-sulfur diesel fuel, and new construction vehicles are equipped with particulate traps or oxidation catalysts for cleaner emissions. Vegetated roofs are incorporated into the south airfield lighting control vault and the relocated Guard Post 1 airfield employee entrance. The OMP also funded 450 acres (182 hectares) of quality wetlands in northeastern Illinois that will provide a natural environment for birds and wildlife and increase passive recreation space. Native grasses and landscaping eliminate the need for irrigation systems. Truck traffic and emissions were reduced by storing as much dirt on site as possible. Approximately 90 percent of materials from building demolitions were recycled, resulting in the recycling and salvaging of 30,000 tons (27,216 metric tons) of steel, brick, concrete, and other materials.

In addition to reducing delays and increasing capacity, the OMP also will create 195,000 new jobs and add $18 billion in economic activity annually. The project is scheduled for completion in 2014.