Noise from new runways takes a toll on suburbs
No dandelion would dare poke its head out on Chester Gorniak's immaculate lawn. But weeds are the only thing missing from his leafy Bensenville paradise that explodes with hydrangeas, weeping cherry trees, wind chimes, statues, fountains and two exuberant terriers.
It's utterly tranquil ... that is until an MD-80 shatters the silence, causing the animal statues to vibrate. Then, a 747. Then, an MD-80. And so on.
Gorniak lived amicably with O'Hare International Airport for nearly 26 years, coping with intermittent jet noise.
But a new runway commissioned in October has shifted air traffic flow, opening up a new front in the war between O'Hare and the suburbs that includes allies in Chicago. Adding to the mix are recent FAA rule changes shifting runway use and causing a din in previously quiet communities.
The resultant cacophony has led state and federal lawmakers to seek remedies, but they're bumping up against the second busiest airport in the nation.
Meanwhile, Gorniak wants out. "I cannot live here. It's impossible," he said.
O'Hare's latest runway, once the site of St. Johannes Cemetery, revolutionized air traffic at O'Hare from a multidirectional approach to a predominantly east or west flow.
That's led to a surge in noise complaints from towns including Bensenville, Itasca, Wood Dale, Addison and northwest areas of Chicago.
In Bensenville, for example, noise complaints shot up from one in March 2013 to 332 from 34 households in March 2014, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation.
But the new runway's not the only noise bomb hitting unsuspecting neighborhoods.
In the wake of near misses at other airports during "go-arounds," when an airplane scraps a landing, the FAA instituted rule changes at O'Hare in April.
The revisions mean restricted use of Runway 32L, a workhorse runway that departs to the northwest. Two runways that depart to the southwest and west are picking up the slack.
The changes also limit use of Runway 4L, which departs to the northeast. As a result, two runways departing to the east are handling more aircraft.
Regarding the runway restrictions, the FAA is working with air traffic controllers on procedures to get back to using the two runways more, spokesman Tony Molinaro said.
He noted that over the years, "noise contours have shrunk tremendously" with newer aircraft.
But for now, sitting around the porch can be earsplitting for pockets of communities around the region.
"There's no rhyme or reason to it," said James Argionis, a Park Ridge resident and member of the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition (FAiR). The coalition, which includes suburbs and Chicago chapters, seeks a new plan for runway use that considers residential noise and wants Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino to resign.
"I'm glad people in Chicago have gotten involved," Argionis said. "For years, Bensenville and Park Ridge have been complaining and it's fallen on deaf ears because it's not their voters."
FAiR members say they want something beyond soundproofing.
"What we really want is a seat at the table," Argionis said. "In a democracy, it's the right thing to do."
Chicago Department of Aviation officials said in a statement they "recognize the need to balance all of the economic benefits of O'Hare with quality of life issues of airport neighbors."
"We believe the best and most appropriate forum to address noise concerns is the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission. All key parties, including the CDA, ONCC members, and from time to time the FAA and airlines, attend and participate in these meetings. The full ONCC meetings provide an opportunity for residents to voice their concerns."
Bensenville leaders, however, are still seeking a one-on-one meeting with the city. And Argionis thinks the ONCC's mandate doesn't go far enough to provide meaningful intervention.
Meanwhile, state Sens. Dennis Reboletti, an Elmhurst Republican, and Michael McAuliffe, a Chicago Democrat, filed legislation this month asking the state to study the effects of O'Hare-related pollution on surrounding residents. The issue's also got the attention of local congressmen. U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a Hoffman Estates Democrat and pilot, said Thursday she met with FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and asked him to expedite an airport noise study.
"I've also asked the FAA to use more runways at the airport so that there will be less noise congestion from the airplanes waiting on runways," Duckworth said in an email.
"It is crucial that improvements at O'Hare do not hurt the quality of life for my neighbors."
Help can't come soon enough for Gorniak and his neighbors on Hillside Drive, including Rebecca Weed.
The screech of jets is so overwhelming that it sets off the baby monitor in her daughter Hailey's room.
"I can hear it turn on and she's sound asleep," Weed said. "It took a while for me to figure it was the planes that were triggering the monitor."
One more thing
Some suburban officials have suggested that imposing higher altitudes for aircraft in the vicinity could bring relief.
But aviation professionals I checked with noted that O'Hare already institutes departure and arrival procedures that account for noise abatement.
"The traffic flowing in and out of O'Hare is a complex choreography of activity," said commercial pilot Dennis Tajer of Arlington Heights, an official with the Allied Pilots Association representing American Airlines pilots. Steeper altitudes also mean more complex maneuvers for aircraft and pilots, experts point out.
It's your turn, Arlington Heights. The Illinois tollway is reconstructing I-90 ramps at the Route 53 and Arlington Heights Road interchanges. Expect lane closures now through the fall.
So what's happening with that Go To 2040 plan that addressed regional planning and transportation? Find out at noon Thursday during a Metropolitan Planning Council forum at 140 S. Dearborn St., Suite 1400, Chicago.
Keep kids safe this summer -- check the back seatIt's still May, and five children have already died this year in the U.S. of heatstroke after being left in vehicles. The advocacy group KidsAndCars.org advises parents to put something in the back seat such as a purse or phone as a reminder to check before leaving the car. To learn more, go to www.kidsandcars.org.