Chicago committee rejects noise-related O'Hare runway change
Doomsday scenarios of lawsuits, lost funds and flight disruptions persuaded Chicago aldermen to vote against stripping power from the aviation department and reopening a closed diagonal runway at O'Hare that some consider the key to jet noise relief.
The aviation committee voted 10 to 1 against an ordinance, sponsored by Alderman Anthony Napolitano and the anti-noise group FAIR Allocation in Runways, that would have given some of the authority for O'Hare operations to the city council, reopened a closed runway and prevented the decommissioning of another.
Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans advised officials Thursday that preserving two diagonal runways, as city and suburban members of FAIR have advocated, would throw out the O'Hare modernization plan that's modeled on a parallel system.
The move would thwart construction of a ring road on the west edge of O'Hare important to the suburbs and jeopardize construction of a sixth runway intended to evenly distribute the din from aircraft, she advised.
"If we deviate from the plan, the status quo stays in place forever," Evans said at a committee hearing.
The power shift would skew airport operations by requiring permission for everything from minor runway repairs to removing signs that distract pilots, Evans said.
Napolitano, however, said it's nonsensical that "we go to city committees for stop signs. We don't do that for runways."
Alderman Raymond Lopez warned that "injecting the city council into decisions will politicize runway use."
But FAIR member John Kane said the city "chose concrete and contracts over the real lives of taxpayers."
The consequence will be an "exodus of the tax base," he said.
O'Hare switched to a parallel runway system with an east/west flight pattern in 2013 that caused an outcry from neighborhoods hit with an unexpected racket.
When the sixth and final parallel runway is built in 2020, the expectation is airplanes departing from it would angle northwest over nonresidential areas following a similar route used with a closed diagonal, Evans said. That would relieve the south airfield where flights on heavily used runways are hammering communities like Bensenville.
The Federal Aviation Administration rejected plans using the diagonal runways for safety reasons, she noted.
If the diagonals were returned to the mix, the FAA could sue to claw back millions invested in O'Hare or withhold soundproofing funds and risk the airport's operating certificate, causing job losses, city attorneys said.
Napolitano dismissed the dire forecasts, saying his ward, which includes airport workers, is weary of noise and declining property values.
"We're not trying to hurt business at O'Hare. It's something we cherish," he said.
With its defeat in committee. the ordinance won't advance to the city council.
"O'Hare and its impact on Chicago and the region had to be taken into consideration with this ordinance," Aviation Committee Chairman Michael Zalewski said.