Residents seeking O’Hare noise relief say mayor offered none

By Siri Bulusu

Mayor Rahm Emanuel disappointed a residents’ coalition Wednesday by failing, the group said, to offer solutions to increased air traffic noise over neighborhoods near O’Hare International Airport.

After two years of requesting his attention, the Fair Allocaton of Runways Coalition finally snared the mayor at City Hall to review new data suggesting noise from east-west runways at O’Hare has reached what the group contends are unbearable levels.

Total complaints to the Chicago Department of Aviation’s Airport Noise Management System increased from 30,000 in 2012 to nearly 4 million in 2015, according to a 2015 CDA report.


Complaints about airport noise in the Chicago area show a steep increase to nearly 4 million in 2015, an all-time high. (Data courtesy Chicago Department of Aviation)

“The impacts are far greater than anyone predicted,” said Colleen Mulcrone, a member of the leadership team at FAiR Chicago.

The group says noise is increasing due to the O’Hare Modernization Plan, a multi-billion-dollar initiative strongly backed by Emanuel that aims to increase airline efficiency and establish Chicago as a business hub. The process includes removal of three diagonal runways previously used to divert air traffic away from residential neighborhoods

Elizabeth Benz, who lives in Norwood Park eight miles east of O’Hare airport, said the increasing noise has made her neighborhood “unbearable” and is “driving everyone crazy.”

“It’s like a thunderstorm going over your head all the time,” Benz said. “It starts at five in the morning and ends after midnight. By the time the noise of one plane is ending, the next starts up.”

According to a 2015 CDA report, a daily average of 254 planes departed and arrived at O’Hare airport between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. via all runways, several of which necessitate flight paths that Benz said are directly over her home.

“You can stand outside and see three rows of lights coming into O’Hare from the east,” Benz said. “This used to be a decent neighborhood, a good place to live and raise a family, but now I dread summer because I know I can’t open my windows.”

In addition to citing noise complaint data, FAiR Chicago said the string of airplanes “raining exhaust fumes in a steady stream” could pose health risks to residents.

Mulcrone said residents have reported “grit and dirt on surfaces of their outdoor hardware” in addition to “sludge in their pools,” issues that she said are “on a basic health level, not just an annoyance of noise.”

Residents, including Benz, are starting to appeal their property taxes on the basis that they “feel they should not be paying more taxes to the city of Chicago where their quality of life is so severely diminished.”

Benz said if things continue as they are, she and her husband will move away to obtain relief from the noise.

“We had talked about moving once we retired but we’re stepping up that conversation now,” Benz said. “With everything else going on in the city, with taxes and now this. It’s just like . . . why am I staying here?”

Colleen Mulcrone speaks at a press conference in City Hall following the Fair Allocation of Runways Coalition’s meeting with Mayor Emanuel. (Siri Bulusu/MEDILL)