O'HARE — An independent analysis of the approximately $10 billion expansion of O'Hare Airport is needed to determine whether the entire project was a "mistake" that has buried the Far Northwest Side under a blanket of jet noise, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley said Wednesday.
Taxpayers have yet to see a return on the huge amount of money spent on the expansion, which has completely changed the way planes depart and arrive at the airport, Quigley said.
“A lot of the O'Hare Modernization Plan may have been a mistake," Quigley said in an interview with DNAinfo Chicago. “We need to put it all on the table. Billions of dollars are at stake.”
Heather Cherone says Quigley questions how much taxpayers will benefit from the new runways:
The Federal Aviation Administration, the city’s Aviation Department and Mayor Rahm Emanuel should address the 180,000 jet noise complaints filed between October 2013 and September 2014 by completely rethinking the plan to expand O’Hare, Quigley said.
Quigley, whose district includes the airport, acknowledged that declaring the O’Hare Modernization Program a mistake would be a “bitter pill” for elected officials who have touted the expansion for nearly a decade as the best way to keep O’Hare among the busiest airports in the country, and boost Chicago’s economy with visits from tourists and business travelers.
“It would be better to swallow it now than later,” said Quigley, who has had his repeated requests for new environmental studies and hearings dismissed by federal officials. “We’ve got to rethink this. What does O’Hare need now to stay competitive? We need to examine all of the airport’s shortcomings.”
When questioned about jet noise, Emanuel and city officials frequently note that O’Hare "drives the economic engine of the Chicago area” and creates thousands of jobs.
That “rigid approach” has made it impossible to find solutions to the issue of jet noise, Quigley said.
The mayor, along with federal and local aviation officials, must do more to balance the airport’s considerable economic impact on the Chicago area with the harm jet noise and pollution is doing to neighborhoods — some more than 10 miles away from O’Hare — where residents had little to no jet noise before the new runway opened in 2013, Quigley said.
“I don’t think any of the three have addressed the issue so far,” Quigley said. “They can do so much more.”
Spokesmen for the mayor and the Aviation Department did not respond Wednesday to the congressman's remarks.
Federal aviation officials said flight patterns at O'Hare were designed to ensure the airport operates as efficiently and safely as possible.
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said the three-year-long study of the environmental impact of the O'Hare Modernization Program "was one of the most comprehensive environmental analyses we have ever conducted."
The expansion plan focused too much on building new runways rather than considering the entire airport, which also needed improvements to its terminals and grounds transportation to speed the flow of travelers, said Quigley.
With the next east-west runway scheduled to open in October, Quigley said he had asked FAA officials not to decommission any of O’Hare’s existing runways.
“You need options,” Quigley said. “That’s the only way to spread out the noise.”
It would be a “monster oops” to take runways out of service before examining whether the expansion plan meets the needs of O’Hare and the city, Quigley said.
“It is a lot of money, and we deserve answers,” Quigley said.
Another step toward addressing residents' complaints would be to hire a “nationally recognized expert with extraordinary credentials” to replace Aviation Department Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino, who is expected to step down later this month, Quigley said.
Andolino’s “sing-song” response at a recent Chicago City Council budget hearing that nothing could be done to reduce the noise of jets flying to and from O’Hare without hurting the area's economy was completely insufficient, Quigley said.
“She doesn’t begin to understand the problem,” Quigley said, referring to Andolino. "And that is definitely part of the problem."
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