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New $1.28 billion runway opens at O’Hare amid noise controversy

New O'Hare Airport runway 10C-28C was commissioned during ceremony 2013. | File

New O'Hare Airport runway 10C-28C was commissioned during a ceremony in 2013. | File

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Updated: November 19, 2013 6:22AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel promised support Thursday for “noise abatement’’ in neighborhoods affected by a new runway and an air-traffic pattern that could reduce delays at O’Hare International Airport by nearly 50 percent.

Amid the patter of raindrops and the roar of jet engines, Emanuel celebrated the opening of a new $1.28 billion runway that completes the first phase of the $8 billion O’Hare Modernization Program.

Near the runway’s taxiway, scores of guests gathered with Emanuel under a fully-enclosed massive white tent stocked with an Eli’s cheesecake shaped like a runway, shrimp chilled by a massive runway ice sculpture and other treats from O’Hare terminal vendors.

On a muddy road nearby, about 10 protestors stood in the rain, part of a group demanding that air traffic be split more evenly among the new runway — 10C-28C — and three other parallel runways. Members of the Fair Allocation in Runway coalition in particular object to one parallel runway absorbing 100 percent of night arrivals 70 percent of the year, from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

“Rahm silent. Jets roar overhead,’’ read one protest sign. “Can you hear us Mayor Rahm?” read another.

Emanuel, former Congressman of a district now peppered with jet noise fears, told reporters Thursday that he will “continue to expand the airport” but also to “make sure the residents around the airport get the resources and support they need for noise abatement.’’

One guest at Thursday’s runway opening, U.S. Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), told reporters she would take a look at more evenly dividing night runway use.

“Everything is on the table as far as I am concerned to alleviate the noise,’’ Duckworth said.

Congressmen Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), who represents Emanuel’s old district, and U.S. Rep. Jan Shakowsky (D-Ill.) already have written Chicago and federal officials, asking them to consider adjusting new flight patterns and to revisit the criteria required to qualify for government-subsidized home insulation.

The christening of O’Hare’s fourth parallel runway means the bulk of O’Hare air traffic will now move in a straight westward flow into or out of O’Hare rather than flying diagonally on crosswind runways.

With less criss-crossing traffic, the new runway and the new flight patterns it is bringing could reduce delays on a good day by 50 percent and expand O’Hare’s capacity by 90,000 flights a year, city officials said.

The new runway — and the two more parallel runways and one runway addition still envisioned under the O’Hare Modernization Plan — are critical to not only O’Hare’s efficiency, but the efficiency of the national air system, Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino said.

Year-to-date through July, O’Hare was dead last in on-time departures among 29 big-city airports, and 27th of 29 in on-time arrivals.

City officials also predicted the new runway would create $4 billion in new economic activity annually and nearly 50,000 jobs.

In addition, the new 10C-28C is Chicago’s first runway capable of accommodating the largest aircraft that fly today, including the Boeing 747-8 and the Airbus A380.

A 2005 environmental impact study predicts that with Thursday’s new air traffic patterns, 15,991 people will be newly exposed to a level of jet noise that would normally qualify them for sound insulation. That includes new portions of Chicago’s Norwood Park neighborhood and parts of Park Ridge, Des Plaines, Wood Dale, Itasca and Bensenville.

The eastern-most tip of the new officially impacted area is around Nagle. But Jac Charlier, a leader of the Fair Allocation in Runways coalition, said increased use of parallel runways in recent years has triggered annoying plane noise well east of Nagle.

His group includes residents upset about air traffic as far east as Hollywood-North Park, as far north as Edgebrook, and as far south as Forest Glen, Charlier said. Many bought their homes before the city revealed how it wants to divide up use of the runways, especially night flights, he said.

One of them, Thursday protestor Karen Nimrouzi of Forest Glen, forsees increased jet noise in her neighborhoods and others.

“We’re going to have a lot of sleep-deprived residents to the east of O’Hare after this,’’ Nimrouzi said.

Under new flight patterns beginning Thursday,by day, about three quarters of all arriving flights over a year will be split fairly evenly among three parallel runways, including 10C-28C, city documents indicate.

But most nights, Chicago residents living east of O’Hare — and parallel to the Kennedy Expressway and Bryn Mawr — could find 100 percent of flights approaching O’Hare from over their homes.

The coalition has distributed 17,000 doorhangers to mostly Northwest Side homes, urging residents to complain to Emanuel and Quigley if they are impacted by jet noise.

While the coalition wants the city to divide the night-time pain, city officials prefer to concentrate night arrivals on the parallel runway, 27 L, that allows an approach over the Kennedy Expressway.

That flight pattern is in keeping with the “Fly Quiet” program that encourages flights over less-populated areas, including highways, said City Department of Aviation spokesman Gregg Cunningham.

“Spreading air traffic around the airport by utilizing multiple runways [for night arrivals] would impact more residents,’’ noted Cunningham.

Charlier encouraged those with beefs to register them at and to keep a screen shot, if possible, of their complaints.

City residents also can call Chicago’s 311 non-emergency number, and suburbanites can dial 1-800-435-9569.

Contributing: Art Golab, Jennifer Johnson

Email: rrossi@suntimes.comTwitter: @rosalindrossi

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