Will 'game-changing' new runway quiet O'Hare jet noise conundrum?

It won't eclipse the election, but another mammoth news event occurs this week. Mammoth as in the reveal of 11,245-foot-long, 200-foot-wide Runway 9-Center/27-Center.

The sixth and final parallel runway at O'Hare International Airport will be commissioned Thursday, signaling the almost end of one of the region's most monumental construction projects.

With a trio of east/west runways operating on the south airfield, 9-Center/27-Center's debut brings three on the north side. Much is expected of the new structure, touted as essential to evenly distributing jet noise around the region and giving O'Hare's sleep-deprived neighbors some shut-eye.

"For too long and to the detriment of Bensenville residents, O'Hare has relied on the southern airfield as the backbone of the airport," Bensenville Village Manager Evan Summers said. "The commissioning of 9C/27C is the city of Chicago fulfilling a promise it made 15 years ago to build out the northern airfield."

O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission Chairman and Mount Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek thinks the runway "will be game-changing, in the sense that it is the last of the new runways to be constructed to complete the O'Hare Modernization Program.

"With some additional work on existing runways and taxiways we will finally be in a steady runway configuration by the end of 2021. This stability will allow for more predictable runway use, especially in the overnight hours," said Juracek.

The O'Hare Modernization Project was anathema to many suburbs when proposed in 2001, particularly in Bensenville where 600 or so homes and businesses were targeted for demolition. The village kept Chicago in court until late 2009 when leaders settled for $16 million, allowing the expansion to proceed.

Major changes include four new runways and two runway extensions. The final extension stretching Runway 9-Right/27-Left on the north airfield by 3,293 feet to a total length of 11,260 will wrap up in December 2021.

The impetus for the parallel system was safety, plus increasing efficiency and capacity by eliminating the original crisscross runway design.

The first new runway on the far north end of O'Hare, 9-Left/27-Right, opened 12 years ago with little controversy. But when Runway 10-Center/28-Center on the south airfield was switched on in October 2013, a hornet's nest erupted as flights shifted from a mix of diagonal and parallel operations to a mostly east/west pattern.

Towns such as Bensenville woke up to a redoubled cacophony while others felt relief. Federal, state and local officials who supported the O'Hare Modernization Project promised a full build-out would provide a noise balance around O'Hare.

When it's fully operational in 2021, Runway 9C/27C's main job will be to handle arrivals in all "weather and wind conditions," officials said.

"The Bensenville/Elk Grove Industrial Park will feel the brunt of the new traffic from 9C/27C," Summers said. "Thankfully this is a much more compatible land use than the homes impacted by the southern airfield."

To the east of O'Hare, the flight path is expected to be over some Rosemont, Park Ridge and Chicago neighborhoods.

Will the promised equalizing occur? It's "still a big unknown," said Dan Dwyer of Medinah, an advisory member on the ONCC's Fly Quiet Committee. "When this airfield was designed 20 years ago, reliance on active runway crossings was less of a consideration in airport design.

"Arrivals on the 2008 runway 9L/27R will need to cross this new runway. So the new runway will need to be proven out in today's safety culture after OMP completion before we're sure if the promised balance is achieved."

Have a question or comment on the new runway? Drop an email to

Bouncing baby runway

O'Hare's new Runway 9-Center/27-Center stretches 11,245 feet long. Other north airfield runways are Runway 9-Left/27-Right at 7,500 feet and Runway 9-Right/27-Left that will be 11,260 feet when extended in late 2021. On the south airfield, the lineup is Runway 10-Left/28-Right at 13,000 feet, Runway 10-Center/28-Center at 10,801 feet, and Runway 10-Right/28-Left at 7,500 feet. Two diagonals comprise Runway 4-Left/22-Right at 7,500 feet and Runway 4-Right/22-left at 8,075 feet.

You should know

Keeping track of all the driver's license/registration date changes? Of course not, so here's a reminder that COVID-19-related extensions on license plate sticker renewals ended Sunday. Stickers can be renewed at Driver's license and ID card expirations have been lifted until Feb. 1, 2021.

Gridlock alert

Southbound Central Tri-State Tollway (I-294) drivers can expect delays between Devon Avenue and Higgins Road with lane and shoulder closures so workers can build noise walls and retaining walls. The work wraps up in spring 2021.

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  Runway 9-Center/27-Center will debut Thursday and will serve passengers including those using Terminal 3 at O'Hare International Airport. Brian Hill/
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