Illinois U.S. House Members Challenge O'Hare Runway Expansion's Approval

June 19--Three U.S. House members from Illinois on Thursday challenged the 2005 federal approval of Chicago's O'Hare runway expansion project, writing a letter to the FAA that cited a spike in complaints from constituents about increased jet noise.

U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, a Chicago Democrat whose district includes O'Hare International Airport, said he has been flooded with noise complaints since last October, when flights changed to a mostly eastbound and westbound pattern with the opening of a new O'Hare runway.

Quigley and fellow Democrats Tammy Duckworth and Jan Schakowsky launched a long-shot bid to restart the environmental review and public-input processes as the almost $10 billion O'Hare project is more than halfway completed and construction is underway on the next runway -- the fifth out of six east-west parallel runways planned on the reconfigured airfield.

The lawmakers said their request to the Federal Aviation Administration to essentially restart the process is based on disappointment with the agency's handling of public hearings on O'Hare expansion in 2005, as well as on changes in the sequencing of new runway construction that the city of Chicago sought and the FAA approved long after the agency evaluated and approved the original design.

The runway now scheduled to open next year, on the south airfield, was originally to be the last runway built under the plan that the FAA approved. It was moved up, in large part, because it will deliver the biggest gains in flight capacity out of all the new runways being built, aviation officials have said. More flights, in turn, mean more jet noise over the Chicago region.

"The FAA's failure to focus on areas most impacted by the (O'Hare Modernization Program) in their public hearings and the inaccuracy and incompleteness of the information provided given the changes that have taken place since then is disappointing and calls into question the integrity or the environmental impact study process,'' the U.S. House members' letter said.

The city aviation department is working with other officials to organize public hearings before the City Council on the noise issue, which two aldermen have been requesting since January, and "help to balance the economic benefits and jobs at O'Hare with the quality of life for residents in communities surrounding the airport,'' said O'Hare spokeswoman Karen Pride.

The FAA did not respond to Tribune requests for a response Thursday.

jhilkevitch@tribune.com

Twitter @jhilkevitch

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