Taxiway Project Improves Winter Air Travel Efficiency at O’Hare

WSP USA has served as construction manager for more than 75 airport improvement projects as part of the O’Hare Modernization Program in Chicago.

The recent opening of a new taxiway at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport will ensure that when winter weather returns, aircraft at one of the nation’s busiest hubs will have rapid access to its Central De-Icing Facility.


It’s the latest project for the O’Hare Modernization Program (OMP), a comprehensive $8 billion initiative by the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) to reconfigure the airfield at O’Hare to reduce delays and increase capacity to meet future aviation needs.


“The OMP includes the construction, rehabilitation and reconfiguration of more than 20 miles of airfield to create a more efficient runway/taxiway system,” said Tom Lyon, WSP construction manager. “The upgraded airfield will also accommodate larger A380 aircraft while reducing noise impacts on communities surrounding the airport.”


WSP USA, which serves as construction manager for the OMP, oversaw construction management for the $71 million Taxiway Z/J and Tank Farm Road projects, which provides aircraft with a direct route in and out of the new de-icing facility. Marc Faulkner served as the site manager and Hannibal Younan was the lead office engineer for WSP.



Tank Farm Road is a two-lane roadway for vehicle traffic on the O’Hare International Airport property.

Efficient Access

The 8.35-million-square-foot Centralized De-icing Facility features 20 bays and was designed to help aircraft cycle more quickly through the pre-flight de-icing process, reducing passenger wait times and delays caused by cold, icy winter conditions. In a city known for its harsh winters, that is a significant upgrade for efficient operations.


But a state-of-the-art de-icing facility was only part of the equation. Next came the need to create a direct, efficient route for aircraft to access and depart the facility easily and safely.


Taxiways Z and J are each over 1,900 feet in length and are comprised of approximately 39,500 square yards of 19-inch-thick Portland cement concrete paving. Tank Farm Road is an on-airport, two-lane roadway for vehicle traffic. The projects were constructed over the course of two years and were deemed substantially complete in late 2019.


Initially, Taxiway Z/J served as a bypass for airport traffic, and its opening allowed for the demolition of Taxiways T and SS.


“Not only did the Taxiways provide direct access to the De-Icing Facility, but they also provided the airport with a taxi route around the construction site as an enabling project for Runway 9C-27C,” Lyon said. “Eventually, Taxiway Z will be a major taxiway allowing aircraft access to the Central De-Icing Facility from the north airfield, rerouting ground vehicles and taxiing aircraft around the approaches and FAA navigational aids of the two runways.” 

Coordinated Effort

In addition to construction of Tank Farm Road, the project required a re-route of the underground jet fuel lines, which would run immediately adjacent to Tank Farm Road. The existing Perimeter Road was relocated out and around the taxiways, allowing the service road to be routed along the west side of the airfield from the northwest Tank Farm all the way to the terminal core.


These projects were closely coordinated with multiple major airport stakeholders to avoid impacting aircraft de-icing and fueling operations occurring in the same vicinity.


“The construction management team coordinated extensively with multiple entities to ensure the successful completion of the project,” Lyon said. “We worked closely with the contractors for Tank Farm Road and the contractors of the O’Hare Fuel Committee to ensure all schedules were coordinated so that both contractors could remain working, even through the winter.”


For the taxiway project, WSP was responsible for inspection, contract administration, safety, quality assurance, estimating, document control and scheduling.


Work elements included site and utility relocation and reconstruction, clearing/grubbing, earthwork and embankment, erosion control, concrete and bituminous pavement, drainage and utility installation, electrical duct banks, watermain, airfield electrical infrastructure, pavement markings, roadway paving and roadway lighting.


Additionally, an existing FAA ASR-9 facility was required to be decommissioned and relocated in order to make way for the new Taxiway J. Strict schedule restraints related to the relocation of the facility posed a challenge that required the construction management team to re-phase the taxiway construction schedule so that the existing ASR-9 tower could remain in-place until the new ASR-9 facility was fully commissioned and operable.



Taxiway Z is 1,900 feet in length and connects to the Central De-Icing Facility.

Successful Collaboration

WSP has served as OMP construction manager for more than 15 years and has worked on more than 75 projects. Work during that time has included management of the successful completion of three new runway components, the reconstruction of one runway and construction of two airport traffic control towers.


Completed runways include:

  • Runway 10L-28R, a 3,000-foot extension of O’Hare’s most active runway, completed in September 2008;
  • Runway 9L-27R, a new runway completed in November 2008;
  • Runway 10C-28C, a new runway completed in October 2013;
  • Runway 10R-28L, a new runway completed in October 2015; and
  • Runway 4L-22R, reconstructed and completed in October 2019.


Currently, the WSP lead team is managing construction of Runway 9C-27C, a new 200-foot-wide, 11,245-foot-long runway set for completion in November.


The firm also provided construction management oversight for the North Airport Traffic Control Tower, which was commissioned in November 2008; and the South Airport Traffic Control Tower, commissioned in October 2015.


In 2019, the team completed its role on the Central Deicing Facility, and celebrated the commissioning of the Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Station #2, as well as completion of the runway status lights for Runway 9R.


The final piece of the OMP will be the approximate 3,600-foot extension of Runway 9R-27L, which began in the summer of 2019 and is set to be completed in late 2021.


“It meant a lot to me to be part of such an historic and challenging project that will have a tremendous impact on the service provided at O’Hare,” Lyon said.


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