Lawmakers working together to fight O'Hare airport noise

 
 
Updated 5/5/2015 7:11 AM
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  • People living near O'Hare are seeking lawmakers' help in dealing with increased jet noise in some areas caused by new runway configurations.

      People living near O'Hare are seeking lawmakers' help in dealing with increased jet noise in some areas caused by new runway configurations. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

State and federal lawmakers banded together Monday to push for passage of legislation they hope will distribute noise from O'Hare jets more equally around the region.

State Sen. John Mulroe of Chicago is seeking to prohibit Chicago from retiring two diagonal runways at O'Hare International Airport.

That bill is pending in the House as is a second proposal he is sponsoring that would increase the number of runways allowed under the O'Hare modernization program from eight to 10.

"We're trying to get a solution with reasonable-thinking people who want to do the right thing," Mulroe said at a news conference. The legislation could be debated at a hearing Wednesday, but it would require action from its sponsor in the Illinois House, Barbara Flynn Currie of Chicago. Lawmakers said they hope to bring it to a vote soon.

One diagonal runway is scheduled to close in August, and officials said it's difficult if not impossible to reopen a runway once it's decommissioned.

"If they close the diagonals, that's the end of the argument," said U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, a Chicago Democrat whose district includes suburbs near the airport.

Quigley argued people did not get enough information about noise when the O'Hare modernization plan was first discussed years ago.

"No one said you'd get several hundred more flights over your head," Quigley said.

The federally approved plan for O'Hare expansion includes closing the two runways.

Mulroe, who represents Des Plaines and Rosemont, said he was galvanized by the frustration and despair felt by residents of once quiet homes that now experience a continual din from planes.

The O'Hare modernization plan, approved by the FAA, allowed 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 since 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 airport expansion plan also allows for just eight runways to be used at a time. Mulroe's bill would keep four diagonals and six parallels operating at a time.

Lawmakers conceded that even though they have authority to keep runways open, the state doesn't have power to order what runways are used.

Nancy Oppor of Schaumburg is among those hoping for relief. When she purchased her Schaumburg home 30 years ago, "I knew the airport was in Chicago and I purchased my house after reviewing the plane traffic," she told the Daily Herald. "My decision was made with the knowledge that a few planes flew overhead throughout the day. It was more than I wanted but it was workable. Now fast forward 30 years and we have now become an unbearable area.

"It's been nothing short of a nightmare since the new runway was open," she said. "My house shakes as the planes fly pretty low as they are coming in for a landing."

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