State Senate tries to save O'Hare's diagonal runways to combat noise

Legislation passed Thursday by the state Senate seeks to prohibit Chicago from retiring two diagonal runways at O'Hare International Airport in the hopes of evenly distributing jet noise.

A federally approved plan for O'Hare expansion that allows decommissioning of the two runways, however, could trump the effort. Asked to clarify the agency's jurisdiction, Federal Aviation Administration officials said "we do not comment nor speculate on pending legislation."

Despite that open question, Sen. John Mulroe of Chicago said he's giving it his best shot.

"Hopefully, this will prompt more conversations dealing with quality-of-life issues for people now suffering from increased noise," he said.

A second bill that would increase the number of runways allowed under the O'Hare modernization program from eight to 10 was also approved Thursday. Both bills passed with 52-0 votes.

Mulroe, who represents Des Plaines and Rosemont, said he was galvanized by the level of passion shown by residents at a recent town hall meeting who made appeals like, "Buy my house, I need to get out."

The O'Hare modernization plan, approved by the FAA, allows for the creation or expansion of six parallel runways. The new system is supposed to be more efficient and safer and increase airport capacity.

But after the airport switched to a primarily east-west pattern of departures and arrivals in late 2013, complaints haven't stopped coming in. Most affected are Chicago neighborhoods and suburbs closest to the airport, but homeowners as far away as West Chicago have asked for relief.

"The diagonal runways disperse traffic and noise around the airport instead of forcing it on communities just east and west," Mulroe said.

The airport expansion plan also allows for just eight runways to be used at a time. Mulroe's bill would expand to keep four diagonals and six parallels operating at a time.

The legislation still has to get through the House.

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