The O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission (ONCC) releases an official monthly report documenting noise exposure over a roughly 20-mile area adjacent to the airport. In addition to documenting the noise levels from permanent noise monitors stationed throughout the area, the report tracks the total number of complaints and complainants (e.g. individuals logging complaints) from those residents experiencing adverse noise events. The report includes a useful monthly map that illustrates how complaints are concentrated relative to Chicago neighborhoods (designated Ward numbers) and adjacent suburbs. The most recent map for November 2017 (below) is a helpful resource because it visualizes the typical impact over the surrounding areas. The November monthly impact map is particularly useful because the number of complaints for the month (465,000) is right in line with the average monthly complaint totals when averaged over 12 months (460,000).
There are some interesting technical aspects to the map worth mentioning. Dotted lines represent arrival and depart flight paths (although they can diverge somewhat depending on daily wind conditions). Black dotted lines are permanent. Yellow dotted lines are temporary. Red dotted lines are the designated flight paths for future runways. If you live anywhere near the red dotted lines, your life is about to change dramatically and permanently. The communities on the western side of the airport, North Itasca, Roselle, Bartlett, Hanover Park, and North Wood Dale will be severely and irreversibly impacted. On the eastern side of the airport, communities that are already living with insufferable conditions such as Jefferson Park, Gladstone Park, Edgebrook, North Park, Edison Park, Norwood Park, Sauganash and Edgewater will be tormented at even greater intervals. The new runway opening in 2020 (parallel to Devon Avenue in Chicago), along with the significant lengthening of the Thorndale Runway opening in 2021, will be responsible for creating this burden well beyond the scope of human tolerance.
If we review the impact of the flight paths aligned with the black dotted lines, you’ll notice that the greatest noise exposure comes from arriving aircraft from the east (over Lake Michigan and the north and northwest sides of the City). Since two-thirds of the time wind direction flows from west to east, aircraft fly directly into airflow. Take note of the narrow and concentrated band of total complaints starting at the lakefront from the City’s northern border to roughly Irving Park Road on the south. The City of Park Ridge is experiencing the greatest impact with approximately 600,000 complaints over a 12 month period. All affected residents under and adjacent to these flight paths are enduring 24 hours of punishment (in addition to experiencing the unseen toxic air pollution and slow deterioration of their housing infrastructure).
On the southwestern side of the airport, the suburbs of Wood Dale and Bensenville are directly exposed to arrival and departures from three runways. Two of the three runways are newly constructed, and were activated within the last 5 years. Wood Dale has experienced 1.4 million complaints over a 12 month period, and Bensenville has experienced 1.5 million complaints over a 12 month period. Farther out, along the Fox River Valley, the town of Geneva has experienced 240,000 complaints over a 12 month period as a result of the same flight paths affecting Wood Dale and Bensenville.
Finally, flight paths from the two remaining permanent diagonal runways (oriented southeast to southwest), are wreaking havoc on the communities of Wilmette, Glenview and especially Elmhurst directly south of the airport. The City of Elmhurst has historically experienced complaints (at most in the 100’s annually) from residents on the north end as far back as the 1990’s. Elmhurst is now experiencing 3,000-5,000 complaints per month, most emanating from central locations but extending as far south as Roosevelt and Butterfield roads.
So what the hell is happening here? Overall arrivals and departures have actually decreased over the last 10 years (see January Newsletter Part 1 post), yet complaints for 2017 will likely exceed 5.5 million. The answer is threefold. First, the $20 billion federally-funded O’Hare Modernization Plan has increased the footprint of the airport while producing six parallel runway configurations that narrowly constrain traffic directly over Chicago’s most densely populated communities. Second, the Federal Aviation Administration has mandated the permanent use of RNAV (and soon to be NextGen) which takes advantage of global positioning systems (GPS) to automatically guide aircraft in and out of the airport at high frequencies, high volumes and very low altitudes in order to conserve jet fuel costs for the commercial and cargo airlines. Finally, the residents affected by these dramatic alterations are considered ‘expendables’ by their elected representatives. That is, without voter accountability towards ward alderman, state representatives and senators, and particularly Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and federal officials such as Congressman Quigley and Schakowsky nothing will change. These elected officials simply do not fear for their political existence relative to the concerns of affected residents who live with the daily onslaught of noise and air pollution. That will begin to change as FAiR NFP progresses with political (and legal) initiatives designed to forcefully impact the behavior of our currently unaccountable representatives.