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Balancing O'Hare Modernization with Community Concerns

Dec 12, 2013

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05) discussed efforts to balance the economically vital O'Hare Modernization Project with community concerns over increased air traffic and noise pollution.

Below is a video and transcript of the speech.



Every day, nearly 2,500 flights land and take off at O’Hare International Airport at the western edge of the 5th Congressional District. More than 66 million passengers boarded or deplaned at O’Hare in 2012. On a recent morning, FAA air traffic controllers kept tabs on 7,300 flights in the immediate area. By any measure O’Hare is integral to the nation’s commercial air traffic network.

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. And when the $9 billion effort to modernize O’Hare is completed in 2020, it will mean the creation of 195,000 more jobs and an additional $18 billion in annual economic activity. 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 17th opening of a new runway at O’Hare, many constituents have experienced a dramatic rise in flights—and noise—over their homes. Some residents are now dealing with hundreds more flights over their homes. All day. Every day.

It’s not just the new runway that’s causing the increase in noise pollution. Because of a dramatic reconfiguration of airspace over O’Hare, a majority of flights either arriving or departing O’Hare now traverse the skies of the 5th 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. The two are not 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 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. As one constituent told me, “We can no longer open our windows, enjoy eating outside on our new front porch, or gardening.”

Madame Speaker, I agree. Neighbors should not be exiled from 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 my 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 mitigate the increase in air traffic. And I’ve called for expanding the practice of routing aircraft over industrial parks, interstates and forest preserves—not over residents’ back yards.

But we need to do more. The Federal Aviation Administration 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. I know the FAA has been studying and reviewing the 65 DNL metric for years. It’s time to stop studying this 30-year-old relic and take action.

So, too, must the City of Chicago and the airlines. The City has told us it will not revisit its “Fly Quiet” program, which adjusts runway usage at night, until the 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 these 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 bill, which will accelerate the airlines’ use of newer, quieter aircraft.

Madame Speaker, I know the O’Hare modernization plan is here to stay. And I know air traffic noise—like noise from the expressways or the L—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 in the roar of aircraft overhead.