Iconic Chicago O’Hare pedestrian tunnels are getting an upgrade



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TPG Executive Editorial Director Scott Mayerowitz was in Chicago last week for United Airlines’ annual media day. As he waited for his flight at Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), he snapped the photo, below.

a close up of a piece of paper: Photo by Scott Mayerowitz / The Points Guy

As mentioned in the “Coming Soon” sign above, local engineering and design firm Epstein has been tapped by the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA), which manages O’Hare and Chicago Midway Airport (MDW), to oversee the construction of new and upgraded tunnels, originally constructed in 1977. 

O’Hare is known for the colorful pedestrian walkways that transport passengers between its four terminals.

Image courtesy of Fly Chicago

Leaks in the tunnels during heavy rains has caused damage that forced CDA to repeatedly close tunnels for maintenance, taking a toll on the tunnel interiors. After putting out a request for bids in August 2019, CDA awarded a contract to Epstein to fix the tunnels and give them a theme inspired by the city of Chicago.

The construction company did a major evaluation of the airport’s seven pedestrian tunnels including 3-D laser scanning surveys of the tunnel interiors and investigating the potential source of water infiltration. Once that was completed, Epstein began working on systems including:

  • Replacing failed or collapsed storm sewers systems
  • Replacing deteriorated sidewalk surfaces in the Terminal areas
  • Replacing tunnel architectural wall and ceiling finishes
  • Replacing concrete walls and ceilings
  • Replacing existing architectural finishes and doing architectural renovations

Epstein’s architects worked with the CDA on the tunnel design. Each tunnel’s theme will follow the same color scheme of the terminals they are leading to, according to the firm. Terminal 1 will have blue gradient wallpaper and images of the Chicago skyline, lake, river and flag. Terminal 2 will have orange gradient wallpaper with images from the Chicago Theater District. Terminal 3 will have green gradient wallpaper with images from the city’s parks and green roofs.

The project is part of O’Hare 21, the city’s $8.5 billion project that includes the new O’Hare Global Terminal, expected to open in 2028.

Feature image by aoldman / Getty Images

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