O’Hare Combines Public Parking, Shuttles, Mass Transit & Rental Car Operations Into One Facility

O’Hare Combines Public Parking, Shuttles, Mass Transit & Rental Car Operations Into One Facility
Thomas J. Smith
Published in: 

Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) is phasing in a new approach to managing ground transportation. Its new Multi Modal Facility brings together rental car operations, public parking, airport shuttles and bus stops—all in the same 2.6-million-square-foot complex. Moreover, the new facility is a short walk to/from an existing station for the region’s commuter train system. 

Rental car operations and public parking opened last October. Phase two, slated for completion in September, will include a stop for ORD’s intra-campus rail system and bus bays for all regional mass transit bus systems, airport shuttles and hotel shuttles.

As a whole, the $405 million project is designed to reduce curbside traffic congestion and make ORD terminals more accessible to travelers. It will also help set the stage for an $8.5 billion terminal expansion planned over the next decade.

 “The move to consolidate rental cars is not a new concept at airports,” says Kieran Sheridan, chief operating officer for the Chicago Department of Aviation. “What is unique is it brings together various modes of transportation to make the airport more accessible.”


Project: Multi Modal Facility

Location: O’Hare International Airport

Owner: Chicago Dept. of Aviation

Project Cost: $405 million

Funding: $272 million Transportation Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act Loan; bonds backed by rental car fees & lease payments

Facility Size: 2.6 million sq. ft.; 2,600 parking spaces; 4,200 rental car spots

Project Timeline: Planning began in 2011; crews broke ground in 2015; parking garage & rental car facility opened Oct. 2018; rail station scheduled to open Sept. 2019

Architect/Engineer: TranSystems

Construction Manager: Austin Power Partners

Program Manager: DMJM Aviation Partners, JV (AECOM lead JV)

Precast Supplier: Illini Precast

Precast Designer: Precast Engineering Co.

Key Benefits: Reduce curbside traffic congestion; increase accessibility to terminals; facilitate future terminal expansion 

New Runway Spurs Relocations

The project got its start when several rental car lots had to be relocated as part of ORD’s on-going multibillion-dollar airfield modernization program. Rental car lots and support facilities were located in what will be the runway safety zone area for the airport’s new Runway 9C, which is scheduled to open next year. 

When developing the masterplan, designers identified an area that included a surface parking lot and cell phone waiting lot as the best site for the new Multi Modal Facility. The location is close to the existing Metra regional rail station that serves the airport and is situated at the edge of the airport campus. By locating the new facility there, project designers eliminated the need for drivers to travel into the core terminal area, thus alleviating congestion and saving them time.

Planning for the two-building project began in 2011, and construction began in 2015.

The Chicago office of the engineering firm TranSystems designed the facilities with support from numerous Chicago firms including Delta Engineering Group, Ross Barney Architects and Singh & Associates. The Construction Manager-at Risk was Austin Power Partners, a joint venture of Power Construction of Chicago, Austin Commercial of Dallas and Ujamaa Construction of Chicago.

Facility Floor Plan

The main structure is five floors. The first three contain 4,200 stalls for rental car agencies; the enclosed fourth floor and roof level accommodate 2,600 public parking spots and 12 charging stations for electric vehicles. The structure features two 60-foot-wide interior courtyards with evergreen and deciduous trees. Exposed to the public parking floors, the courtyards provide natural ventilation, lighting and directional orientation to drivers inside the garage.

Counters for 13 rental car operators are located in a two-story atrium lobby. Previously, some were located inside the terminals and others were off site. The new structure consolidates all into one facility, which was 100% occupied when it opened, Sheridan notes.

The building also includes food and beverage operations, two nursing rooms for mothers and an outdoor relief area for service animals and pets.

Hertz, Enterprise and Avis have VIP areas that allow frequent customers to bypass the counters. The Enterprise space resembles a new car showroom that displays vehicles available for upgrades.

The second building houses a quick turnaround facility for the rental agencies. It connects on all levels to the parking garage, and includes heated floors, maintenance lifts, fueling bays and vehicle washing equipment.

All the rental companies lease this space and participate, pro rata, in a contract with a third party that manages the service area.

The quick turnaround building is topped with a green roof covered entirely in vegetation—a feature that supports the project team’s efforts to earn a LEED Silver rating for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

“We have had great feedback—specifically from the rental car companies, who are hearing great comments from their customers,” Sheridan reports. “They like the layout of the building, its convenience, the sleek modern look and the beautiful interiors.”

Design Challenges

Several aspects of the rental car facilities caused wrinkles in the original planning for the overall complex. For instance, the desire to have fueling stations on multiple floors of the enclosed structure was originally at odds with Chicago fire codes.

“We worked with them on a special fire suppression system and ventilation to get approvals,” explains Mike Lev, the TranSystems vice president who served as the firm’s project manager.

Housing the quick-turn facilities in a separate structure from the parking garage, and installing automated doors, also helped meet code requirements. The large roll-down doors separate the fueling area from the rest of the facility in the event of a fire, Sheridan explains.

To provide operational flexibility, the team strayed from the usual construction practice for concrete garages by using robust columns rather than shear walls for horizontal support. This created more wide-open spaces, so rental operators can park vehicles in a north-south direction some days and an east-west direction on others.

The garage contains 255 precast columns (each four stories tall) that transfer the building’s load to the foundation. “We achieved this by using larger columns and very high-strength concrete with very heavy anchoring pieces tying each column to the foundation,” explains Jacob Donnellan, a project engineer with Precast Engineering, the company that designed the columns.

Made with a highly engineered concrete mix, each column has a footprint of 44 by 42 inches and is designed to handle a load of 15,000 pounds per square inch, details Donnellan. By comparison, the columns in most of the precast parking garages the firm designs have footprints of 44 by 30 inches and handle loads of 5,000 to 7,000 pounds per square inch.

Illini Precast Concrete, the firm that hired Precast Engineering to design an alternative to shear walls for the project, poured the columns in its plant in Burlington, WI. Overall, the process took about four months.

In the end, the design reduced the number of pieces needed to build the garage, which saved time during the erecting process.

Although the airport is not currently planning to add more floors for public parking, the Chicago Department of Aviation required the garage’s sub- and superstructure to be able to support four additional floors for future expansion.

Transit Facilities Open Soon

Sheridan reports that ORD will coordinate the arrival of its rail system with the establishment of various shuttle buses at the new facility. Currently, the airport is running shuttle service between the terminals and new garage.

The building includes 12 bus bays and three additional layover spots. All airport shuttles, hotel shuttles and regional transit buses will operate out of these bus bays, which are adjacent to the building lobby. Bus providers will make the move in phases, so each service is operating smoothly before another service is added, notes Sheridan.

A station for the Airport Transit System, ORD’s intra-campus rail system, is located on the third level of the building. Currently, the system is undergoing improvements to increase the capacity and speed of the cars. Major construction is already complete, and crews are now working on system integration. Once the system is operational, the farthest terminal will be a nine-minute train ride from the Multi Modal Facility.

In the meantime, the airport is operating shuttle buses for passengers and employees between terminals and to/from its economy parking lots. Temporary shuttles are also serving the nearby Metra train station and the airport’s new Multi Modal Facility.


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