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Quieting O’Hare noise pollution

Every day some 2,500 flights land and take off at O’Hare International Airport, with more than 66 million passengers passing through its terminals in 2012. By any measure O’Hare is integral to the nation’s commercial air traffic network, with delays there reverberating across the country.

And just as it shapes the nation’s air traffic system, O’Hare plays a major role in the local and regional economies. O’Hare currently generates 450,000 jobs and $38 billion in economic activity for Chicago and the State of Illinois — with more promised once the $9 billion airport modernization program is completed in 2020. In my district alone, more than 12,000 constituents have jobs tied to the airport.

But O’Hare’s success comes at a price.

Since the October 17 opening of a new runway at O’Hare, many constituents have experienced a dramatic rise in flights — and noise — over their neighborhoods. Residents are now enduring hundreds more flights over their homes.

All day. Every day.

It’s not just the new runway increasing the noise pollution. Because of a dramatic reconfiguration of O’Hare airspace, a majority of flights now traverse the skies of the 5th Congressional District.

I understand and support the need to modernize O’Hare. The new parallel runway configuration means safer, more efficient operations and fewer delays.

But I also understand the importance of livable neighborhoods and believe a thriving airport and vibrant neighborhoods aren’t mutually exclusive.

We are a region of distinctive neighborhoods, where hard-working people have built their lives and invested much of their earnings into their homes in communities such as Forest Glen, Sauganash, North Park and Harwood Heights.

My constituents worry that their peace of mind and property values are being eroded in the name of profits and air traveler convenience.

I agree. We should not be exiled from our backyards and gardens because of the ceaseless din of commercial aircraft.

I also believe that if we take the right steps, maintaining a vibrant neighborhood won’t be incompatible with a safe and efficient O’Hare.

Since O’Hare became part of the 5th Congressional District in January, I’ve pushed for important changes that can bring relief to residents in the near term. I’ve advocated that O’Hare continue to use all available runways to more equitably distribute the burden of noise from increased air traffic. And I’ve called for expanding the practice of routing aircraft over industrial parks, interstates and forest preserves — not over residents’ backyards. I’ve also successfully argued for a new noise monitor at North Park Village so we can better understand the noise impact of the new flight patterns.

But we need to do more. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) needs to overhaul the metric it uses to determine how much noise around airports is acceptable. The FAA’s current measurement — the so-called 65 DNL — is outdated and woefully incomplete at measuring the impact of unabated noise overhead. The FAA has been studying reviewing the 65 DNL metric for years. It’s time to stop studying this 30-year-old relic and take action.

The City of Chicago must also step up. The City has told us it will not revisit “Fly Quiet,” a voluntary, nighttime noise abatement program, until the O’Hare modernization is completed in 2020. There may be obstacles to reviewing this program, but the City needs to be more nimble in addressing the needs of its residents.

The airlines, too, must help. They will save millions in lower operating costs, as delays at O’Hare decrease. A portion of those savings should be earmarked for neighborhood sound proofing efforts. The airlines must also get quieter quicker. That’s why I just introduced the

Silent Skies Act, which will accelerate the airlines’ use of newer, quieter aircraft.

The O’Hare modernization plan is here to stay and air traffic noise — like noise from expressways or the L trains — is a fact of life in our metropolitan area.

But it is also a fact that neighborhoods — not noisy aircraft — make life in Chicago and its suburbs special. We all need to work together to ensure the vitality of our neighborhoods isn’t drowned out by the roar of aircraft overhead.

U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley represents Illinois’ fifth congressional district



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