The Emanuel administration is willing to meet at least one demand of sleepless residents affected by changes in jet noise patterns at O'Hare International Airport by installing more noise monitors in Chicago and several suburbs, officials are expected to announce Tuesday.
The locations of eight new noise monitors have not yet been selected, but they will be deployed "as soon as possible" to collect data on existing and future flight paths near the airport, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said.
Of the 32 permanent monitors in service, only two are in Chicago, officials said.
"We need to better understand the impact,'' Emanuel said in a written statement Monday to the Tribune.
The city received an all-time record of 29,493 noise complaints last year, spurred by the opening of a new O'Hare runway in mid-October that revamped air traffic patterns. The total for the first four months of this year is 35,899 complaints, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation, which has not released more recent numbers.
Noise monitors were first installed in 1996 in communities near O'Hare. The devices record decibel levels from planes departing and arriving at the airport, according to the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission. The readings are averaged over 24-hour periods, and the data determine whether property owners are eligible for free soundproofing on their buildings.
The commission will work with city aviation officials and four aldermen receiving a large number of noise complaints to identify where the new noise monitors will be stationed, the mayor's office said. Airport funds will be used to purchase and install the monitors, officials said.
One of those four, Ald. Margaret Laurino, 39th, said the additional noise monitors will merely "confirm what people already know" and that a solution must include cooperation from the airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration. The goal would be to provide noise relief by spreading flights more evenly around different air corridors, particularly at night, speeding up the schedule to introduce quieter jet engines and expanding the noise contour for residential soundproofing.
"The residents of the 39th Ward did not move next to the airport," Laurino said. "They live a $40 cab ride from O'Hare."
Emanuel asked Laurino and Aldermen Michael Zalewski, 23rd, chairman of the City Council's Aviation Committee; Mary O'Connor, 41st; and Patrick O'Connor, 40th, to help pick the new spots for noise monitors in the city.
But the mayor has made it clear that the O'Hare expansion project will continue to move toward completion in about 2020, despite ongoing calls from opponents for the city and the FAA to conduct a new environmental assessment and hold public hearings — almost 10 years after both were wrapped up.
The modernization effort, featuring six parallel east-west runways and two diagonal crosswind runways, proposes construction of two more new runways, including an airstrip set to open in late 2015, and an extension to an existing runway sometime after that.
It follows the opening of the fourth parallel runway in October, when a switch was made, sending the majority of planes to take off on runways heading west and most arriving flights to approach O'Hare from the east.
The city's willingness to agree to some additional noise monitors — but not to any changes in runway usage or an expansion of the nighttime "fly quiet'' voluntary guidelines for pilots — likely signals that a mutually acceptable agreement to abate jet noise remains elusive.
When asked Monday about the status of holding City Council hearings that she and Laurino requested in January, O'Connor,, vice chairman of the council's Aviation Committee, responded: "We are still trying to find a long-term solution as well as short-term measures that would ease some of the burdens from the frequency of the airplanes and the noise."
She pointed out that her ward is hard-hit by airplane noise day and night and there currently are no noise monitors in the 41st. O'Connor said she will push for monitors in the Edgebrook and Wildwood neighborhoods, as well as north of Touhy Avenue.
"Residents feel like the amount of noise going over their houses isn't being represented accurately," she said.