O'HARE — Ignoring pleas from residents to halt the expansion of O'Hare Airport that has blanketed the Northwest Side with jet noise, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said a sixth east-west runway will be built to complete the expansion of the airfield.
The approximately $1.3 billion infrastructure plan would ensure "improved on-time performance and enhanced customer experience" for the thousands of travelers who use the airport every day, Emanuel said in a statement.
The 11,245-foot-long, 200-foot-wide $648.5 million runway officially known as 9C/27C is scheduled to open in 2020, now that federal officials and representatives from United and American airlines have agreed to foot part of the bill, a statement from the mayor's office said.
Anti-O'Hare noise activists have pleaded with city officials to scrap the expansion plan and reopen the diagonal runway on the east side of the airport that was closed six months ago, which they say reduced jet noise and air pollution over the Northwest Side and surrounding suburbs. Despite this, Emanuel has steadfastly refused to reconsider his staunch support of the expansion of the airport.
"This historic agreement enhances O’Hare's role as the economic engine of Chicago and the region," Emanuel said.
The expansion of the airport sent hundreds of flights over areas of the Northwest Side, including 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.
Once the final runway is complete, flight paths to and from the airport will be equally balanced between the north and south sides of the airfield, the mayor's office said. That will balance "noise exposure among communities east and west of O’Hare. The city also plans to ensure that sound insulation of all eligible homes and schools will commence and be completed before the runway opens," according to the statement.
However, federal officials have said that studies to determine which areas would hear the most jet noise under the new airport configuration won't be complete until 2025.
The agreement also includes plans to centralize de-icing operations at the airport during wintry conditions, as well as new taxiways to speed planes — and passengers — on their way, according to the statement.
However, the deal does not include any new airport arrival and departure gates, something Emanuel has long said is needed to reduce flight delays, which airlines have resisted.
The final phase of the $8.7 billion airport expansion will mean the closure of the diagonal runway on the west side of the airport in 2019.
Emanuel met Wednesday with members of the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition and told them he would not reconsider his support for the continued expansion of the airport.
While the coalition sees reopening the diagonal runways as the last, best chance to reduce the roar of jets over the Northwest Side, city officials contend the runways — built in the 1950s — are "fatally flawed" and pose a safety threat to airline passengers throughout the city, officials said.
Two other diagonal runways — one on the north side of the airport, the other on the south — will be used when weather conditions require, city officials said.
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