O'HARE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT — Opening a new $1.3 billion runway, the mayor promised a "balanced approach" Thursday to meeting community needs with an expanding O'Hare Airport.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel cited Midway Airport on the Southwest Side as proof the city can work with neighborhoods to minimize airplane noise problems.
"So we're very sensitive as a city and in our Aviation Department in the way we manage our airports and work with the surrounding communities," Emanuel said. "We do it in a way I think is balanced, and we can always do better.
"In a balanced approach, it helps the communities while keeping those economic engines that are so vital for the city to continue its economic growth," he added.
Yet neighborhood groups on the Northwest Side, some organized under the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition, have fought the O'Hare runway expansion and the change in traffic patterns it will bring. Dozens protested at a roadside entry to the event at O'Hare Thursday, some with signs reading, "Play Fair."
"There's mixed reviews," said Ald. Mary O'Connor (41st), who like Emanuel attended the gala opening of the runway Thursday. "Right now, there's an uncertainty about the impact.
"But, on the other hand, the 41st Ward also has benefits from O'Hare," she added, citing an estimated 1,400 airport employees in the ward. "So it has an impact on the local economy."
O'Connor also said she was out to "find a balance" between the airport's needs and the community's quality of life and pledged to "keep advocating" for residents.
The opening of runway 10C-28C, or "10 Center" as it was referred to, is expected to streamline O'Hare traffic and add to its capacity, easing travel nationwide with O'Hare's position as an air-traffic hub. It will also enable O'Hare to handle the largest jets, and it completes the $3.2 billion first phase of the O'Hare reorganization and expansion expected to be completed in the coming years.
"I don't really want to get into the details," Emanuel said when pressed on the issue of noise abatement. "That's not something the mayor does. That's obviously" the Federal Aviation Administration.
"That said, I used to represent this district," he added, citing his term in Congress. "We're gonna continue to expand the airport and also make sure that the areas around the airport get the type of resources and support they need for noise abatement."
U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Chicago) now represents the district comprising affected neighborhoods such as Sauganash, Forest Glen, Edgebrook and North Park, and he has raised concerns about noise and the changing airport traffic patterns. Quigley was quoted as being supportive in a press release celebrating the runway opening, but was not at the actual event.
U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Hoffman Estates) said she has been working with Quigley and a noise commission that's been created to deal with the O'Hare expansion, and the initiatives being directed to the northwest suburbs west of the airport are also being directed to the city's Northwest Side east of the airport.
"We're working together with the FAA and community leaders, and we're we're going to try to find ways that we can actually fly the aircrafts in a systematic pattern that would minimize the noise issue," Duckworth said. "This can be done. It's done in Washington and all around the world.
"The FAA has been great in working with us and talking about the issues," she added. "We're gonna find a resolution to this. This is a comprehensive solution that needs to happen, and we'll work on it together."
Both Duckworth and U.S. Sen Dick Durbin joked about the relief of being freed from the controversy around the government shutdown in Washington, D.C.
"It's really great to be home where stuff is actually getting done," Duckworth said.
"It's great to be anywhere other than Washington, D.C.," Durbin added. "The future of America is not in shutting things down, but opening things up."
During a following news conference, Durbin had to shout to be heard over an airplane taking off on the new runway.
"Let us also remember, as we struggle before these microphones, we are also committed to noise abatement," Durbin said. He promised "major investments" to address the "quality of life" for the surrounding area's "families and businesses and schools."