Amid O'Hare Noise Uproar, Some Enjoy Hush

Last fall some neighborhoods near O'Hare got quiet


Jan. 24--Christopher Payne knows too well what thousands of Chicago-area residents are going through as they learn to live with the ruckus caused by new flight patterns at O'Hare International Airport.

He has put up with the window-rattling thunder of jet engines for as long as he can remember and since 2008 has been keeping a log of the worst days, when planes would fly directly over his house.

The 48-year-old grocery store business manager has lived most of his life in Park Ridge, a suburb where it has often been necessary to stop conversations in midsentence until airplane noise subsides and, in the summer, to wipe oily jet fuel residue off of outdoor furniture on a daily basis.

Then, last October, his neighborhood got quiet.

"There were times I had to turn on the air conditioning just because I had to close the windows," he said. "I couldn't even read the newspaper. Since then, we've gone from constant noise to relative quiet. It has transformed my neighborhood for the better."

Payne is among a minority of O'Hare-area residents who have actually benefited from recent changes to flight corridors around the airport since a new runway opened a few months ago as part of a broader expansion, one that contributed to a record number of jet-noise complaints last year.

The new runway, one of four existing east-west landing strips and among a planned total of six, is part of a modernization plan to gradually steer air traffic away from O'Hare's four diagonal runways.

The result is that areas to the north and south of the airport are experiencing less noise, while more jet noise is being generated to the east and west of O'Hare.

In 2008, the year Payne bought a house in the northwest part of Park Ridge, he started keeping a log on calendars to track the days that planes flew over his house en route to landing on one of O'Hare's diagonal runways, a strip called 22 Right, just 21/2 miles away.

"It is kind of a hobby of mine," Payne said about his logbook calendars.

"The planes were (at an altitude of) less than 1,000 feet when they went over my house. The arrival stream was one plane after another, after another, after another. It never stopped," he said.

His records show that the runway was active on about 70 percent of the days for most of 2008. Then, in November of that year, the O'Hare expansion program's first new east-west runway opened on the north airfield, and the flight path over his house was used infrequently -- for a short time, it turned out. Landings soon resumed and surpassed previous activity, Payne said.

It got noisier and noisier over Payne's house, in the 1200 block of Elliott Street, until a mid-October day last year, when another new east-west runway, called 10 Center/28 Center, opened.

"Oct. 17 was the 290th day of 2013," Payne said, consulting his log. "On 130 of those days, we had landings on 22 Right."

Oct. 17 was the day noise stopped.

His observations are confirmed by the latest data from the Chicago Department of Aviation.

The newest east-west runway ushered in permanent changes in air-traffic patterns that have shifted aircraft noise. The vast majority of flights now use the east-west runways, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

A 2005 environmental study conducted by Chicago and the FAA pointed to broader changes that the newly opened east-west runway would bring. The study predicted that the runway would expose almost 27,000 people -- 3,205 more than before -- to daylong averages of 65 decibels or higher. That average, which oscillates from near-silence to levels much louder, is comparable to standing next to a car traveling at highway speeds.

Denise Thompson, who has lived in the north section of Elmhurst for 15 years, is another person who is bucking the trend of noise increases. She's pleased that the east-west runways are shifting jet noise away from her neighborhood, which is near a flight path that lines up with O'Hare's southernmost diagonal runway, 4 Right/22 Left.

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