Runway changes at O'Hare brings mix of angst, contentment across suburbs
As flight traffic and noise from O'Hare International Airport soar, is the latest runway doing the job promised by Chicago leaders to spread the jet din more evenly around the city and suburbs?
The answer, like everything involving the nation's second busiest airport, is complicated.
The 11,245-foot long behemoth -- Runway 9-Center/27-Center -- was commissioned on Nov. 5, 2020, and finally leveled the playing field at O'Hare with three parallel runways each on the north and south airfields.
However, the Chicago Department of Aviation closed Runway 9-Right/27-Left in February so it could be extended to 11,260 feet, leaving the north airfield with just two runways again. The project wraps up in early December.
And as travelers vaccinated against COVID-19 take to the skies again, air traffic decimated by the pandemic is coming back. When the new runway opened in November, O'Hare experienced just 43,304 operations that month. In May, flights totaled 54,443, a bump of over 25%, according to the CDA's most recent data.
The addition and subtraction equals an unabated din for Bensenville, which is located smack-dab against two runways on the south airfield that are constantly humming.
"We haven't seen any improvement (in noise) and I don't expect to for some time," Village Manager Evan Summers said. He noted that although the new runway is handling about 21% of O'Hare's departures and 14% of its arrivals between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. as of May 2021, it doesn't compensate for the inactive one. Runway 9R/27L accommodated 29% of the departures and 18% of the arrivals in pre-pandemic May 2019, he noted.
"As you can see, if anything, the new runway has not picked up the slack of 9R/27L coming offline," he said.
"Qualitatively, some of my longtime residents are complaining that this is the worst noise they've ever experienced on the southern airfield," Summers explained.
The two southside runways absorbed 61% of daytime departures and 45% of arrivals in May.
CDA Deputy Commissioner for Communications Christine Carrino explained the agency "is striving toward a more balanced north and south airfield and a more balanced east and west air traffic flow, and is working with the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission to achieve this. The new runways help make this possible."
Complaints about jet noise totaled 16,346 in November 2020. As of May, those had reached 28,085, with Chicago, Park Ridge and Itasca lodging the most complaints, CDA reports show.
Elmhurst had experienced significant noise problems before COVID-19. Marc Haibeck, who lives in southwest Elmhurst, noticed that "since about November 2020 there has been less jet noise. Jets are departing and going over the area about a half mile east of our house. They are flying quite high up. Because of the distance, the noise is low. It does not interfere with conversations in the yard."
Asked if decibel levels were worse or better, Itasca Mayor Jeff Pruyn said residents on the north side of town haven't complained, but those on the south side "perceive that things are worse compared to last year when flights were down."
The COVID-19 lull may have offered a false sense of quiet, Pruyn noted.
Winfield resident Scott Carney finds "the airliner traffic above our house seems similar to pre-pandemic levels. We filed 437 complaints in the last 30 days. I know the north runway is opened, but there is still heavy traffic that wasn't there a few years ago."
Yet over in Schaumburg, "we have not seen an increase in noise complaints," Transportation Director and ONCC vice chairman Karyn Robles said.
Dan Dwyer, a member of the Fair Allocation in Runways group, anticipates "since we expect operations to continue to increase for the foreseeable future under the O'Hare 21 expansion, relief will likely be elusive for most residents."
Expect angst starting Sept. 7 when IDOT reduces lanes on the southbound Route 53 bridge over Northwest Highway/Route 14 in Palatine. Bridge repairs should wrap up in mid-October.
You should know
Learn more about Metra's plans to replace bridges on the Union Pacific North Line in Chicago at an online forum at 6 p.m. Sept. 9. To register, go to metra.com/UPNrebuild.
Licenses, IDs by appointment
Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White is expanding the number of offices that will require appointments for a road test or to obtain REAL IDs, driver's licenses and ID cards. The change goes into effect Sept. 7 at Schaumburg and Bridgeview, Sept. 8 at Lombard and Des Plaines, Sept. 9 at Waukegan and Naperville, and Sept. 19 in Aurora and Joliet. Services such as renewing a license sticker do not require an appointment. Appointments can be made up to 10 days in advance at cyberdriveillinois.com.