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'Noise Crisis' Should Halt O’Hare Expansion, Reopen Runways: Alderman

By Heather Cherone | January 18, 2016 8:26am
 A plan soars over the Northwest Side, where noise complaints were up this weekend.
A plan soars over the Northwest Side, where noise complaints were up this weekend.
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

O'HARE — The diagonal runway closed last year at O'Hare Airport would be reopened immediately and the expansion of the airport halted under a measure introduced by Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) to address what he called a "noise crisis" on the Far Northwest Side.

The measure seeks to slam the brakes on the $8.7 billion O'Hare Modernization Program, which has sent hundreds of flights over areas of the Northwest Side like North Park, Jefferson Park, Edgebrook, Edison Park and Norwood Park that previously heard little or no jet noise before an east-west runway opened in October 2013.

The measure echoes demands made by members of the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition, which wants city officials to reopen the diagonal runway on the east side of the airport, contending it is the only way to reduce jet noise over the Northwest Side.

However, city officials contend the diagonal runways — built in the 1950s — are "fatally flawed" and pose a safety threat to airline passengers throughout the city.

The diagonal runway on the east side of the airport was closed in August, and the one on the west side of the airport is scheduled to be closed in 2019 before the final east-west runway is built.

The measure faces an uncertain future at City Hall, where it must first be approved by the Chicago City Council Aviation Committee before a final vote.

No other Northwest Side alderman has endorsed the measure, introduced Wednesday.

Owen Kilmer, a spokesman for the Department of Aviation, said the city remained committed to finishing the expansion of the airport and to working with the airlines that use O'Hare as well as the federal government "to achieve our collective goal of making O'Hare the best airport in the world."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been a steadfast supporter of the airport expansion, which he has repeatedly said is needed to ensure that Chicago continues to attract the business travelers and vacationers — along with their fat wallets — that drive the city’s economy.

"The city takes very seriously the concerns of residents living under airport noise," Kilmer said.

After city officials rejected pleas to keep the diagonal runways open in July, they announced the airport would rotate the runways that are used at night in an effort to spread out the noise that many residents say keeps them from getting a good night's sleep.

A plan to implement that rotation is being crafted by a special committee of the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission.

Napolitano, who was elected to the council in April, said in a statement he would continue to "fight this issue until the residents of the 41st Ward receive a real solution to the overwhelming noise crisis they are experiencing from O’Hare."

Ald. John Arena (45th), whose ward has also been blanketed by jet noise, is reviewing the ordinance to determine whether it will "achieve residents’ goals" and looking forward to a "spirited debate" during the aviation committee hearing, said Owen Brugh, the alderman's chief of staff.

One more east-west runway is set to be built at O'Hare to complete the airport's modernization. However, neither United nor American airlines have agreed to foot part of the nearly $1 billion cost of the project, set to begin in 2020.

That runway is not needed, Napolitano said, and should not be built, because the number of flights to and from O'Hare have fallen significantly below expectations.

Napolitano has asked Emanuel to appoint him to the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission, saying he would be more "vocal" about airplane noise than current 41st Ward representative Catherine Dunlap.

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