O'Hare chief talks nighttime noise and diagonal runways
It's not the suburbs versus Chicago when it comes to O'Hare noise or growth, the city's new Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans thinks.
"Air traffic is an equal opportunity flier," Evans said Tuesday, pointing to a Spirograph-esque diagram of planes zooming around the airspace in the nation's busiest airport.
An engineer and aviation expert, Evans doesn't give you the sense she has a big learning curve regarding O'Hare or Midway international airports.
But, during a Tuesday interview with the Daily Herald, she did ask for more time before giving a definitive answer on DuPage County's holy grail -- a western terminal at O'Hare.
"I have not studied that at all," Evans said. "I've been here two months and jumped in on noise issues and the airfield, that's been my focus."
A recent CDA report called the city "committed to the need for additional terminal/gate availability."
"We definitely are gate-constrained," Evans said. "I'm looking at short-term improvements before looking at long-term improvements."
Evans was vice president at Reagan and Dulles international airports, and chief at Denver International Airport before landing smack in the middle of a resident uprising over the din from jets caused by the 2013 switch to parallel runways.
On Friday, she offered up a compromise proposal to use a rotating system of runways for nighttime flights to spread out the noise.
"It's going to take a concerted effort from the community to get consensus on that plan, so we can go back to the FAA and get it implemented as quickly as possible," she said.
Saying they present a safety risk, Evans has backed closing two diagonal (14/32) runways despite pressure from anti-noise groups to keep them,
Tuesday, she added that the diagonals hinder economic development and "physically block a lot of long-term plans for O'Hare."
For example, one impedes a western bypass around O'Hare; tunneling underneath would add a cost-prohibitive $100 million to the project, Evans said.
Unofficially, she expects another diagonal runway (4-Left/22-Right) to "fade over time," for safety and efficiency reasons.
The city intends to open a fifth parallel runway this fall on O'Hare's far south end. On the north side, a sixth parallel and runway extension are coming in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
Some, including congressman Mike Quigley, doubt there's enough money for the north airfield projects.
Evans said the sixth parallel is essential to balance out airport noise and increase capacity during peak travel times.
The key is to "finance it and pay it back in chunks that your cash flow can support. I've built $10 billion and $12 billion programs all over the world. It all seems unaffordable when look at from the front end."
Asked about noise relief during the daytime, not just nighttime, Evans said, "I've heard over and over again nighttime noise was the worst -- that's where we're starting.
"It's a big ship, you don't turn it quickly. A year from now, two years from now, we'll take another look."