Groundbreaking for newest O'Hare runway gets mixed reactions

  • A plane flies above a neighborhood along Hillside Drive in Bensenville after takeoff from O'Hare airport. Construction on a new runway began this week.

      A plane flies above a neighborhood along Hillside Drive in Bensenville after takeoff from O'Hare airport. Construction on a new runway began this week. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Updated 8/12/2016 6:11 PM

The groundbreaking for the construction of O'Hare International Airport's final parallel runway this week was ceremonial, but suburbs to the west are expecting real noise relief in four years or so.

At more than 11,000 feet, the runway will be the second longest at O'Hare and balance out operations on the airfield, officials said. The south airfield, which currently has the two longest runways, is handling the bulk of flights and surrounding communities are enduring the greatest impact from jets, Bensenville Mayor Frank Soto said Friday.


"Bensenville, Wood Dale and communities on the south end of the airport have been inundated with noise because the northern runways weren't built out," Soto said. "This is great ... for a lot of people, not just for Bensenville.

"Now we will really see the ability to create balance around the airport and not inundate any particular community."

The new runway, dubbed 9-Center/27-Center, is expected to be completed in 2020. It's part of a shift to a parallel, east/west runway system, which the city's aviation department says is safer and more efficient, instead of relying on diagonal runways.

But members of the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition called the plan flawed and continued to lobby the city to keep two once-busy diagonal runways open, arguing that's a better way to distribute jet noise. One diagonal has been decommissioned and in 2018 the city intends to retire a second diagonal in the way of a future Illinois toll road that will run along the airport's far west side.

"The residents are now left to shoulder the burden of the city's failure to address the noise impacts of O'Hare modernization through the use of these existing runways. The city had a choice --­ meet the needs of O'Hare and provide noise relief, or move forward with a plan that abandons the residents by building unneeded capacity," FAIR officials stated in a release.

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Walsh Construction is building the new runway in stages, starting at the east end. Chicago officials also stated they will provide soundproofing for eligible homes and schools affected by the project.

Along with the runway construction, which began Thursday, Chicago announced this summer it intends to expand Terminal 5, which opened 23 years ago, by 25 percent.

The city also intends a makeover for Terminal 2, converting the underused facility into a central hub with a new U.S. Customs and Border Patrol center and TSA screening stations.

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