O’Hare runway being dismantled despite bills aiming to save it

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A plane lands at O’Hare Airport. | File photo

Officials have begun dismantling a diagonal runway at O’Hare International Airport, despite two pending Illinois bills seeking to spare it from demolition, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

One critic said the move raised the specter of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s 2003 decision to send in bulldozers under cover of darkness to carve giant X’s into Meigs Field’s only runway.

“This is Mayor [Rahm] Emanuel’s version of what Daley did to Meigs Field,” said Jac Charlier of the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition.“It’s Meigs Field all over again, just not with bulldozers.”

State Sen. John Mulroe, Senate sponsor of two bills that would preserve the runway and one other, said he was so “flabbergasted” he hopes to ask Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan on Wednesday to intervene.

“We proposed legislation for this not to happen, and they are just going and doing it without even consulting us,” said Mulroe, D-Chicago. “They are trying to run around this, or run over us — I don’t know what they are doing but it’s annoying.”

Mulroe and Charlier contend the diagonals should be used to spread out O’Hare air traffic more evenly.That could offer some relief to citizens east and west of O’Hare hit with new jet noise following a 2013 switch to using mostly parallel east-west runways instead of mostly diagonal ones.

Dan Carrico, president of the O’Hare tower unit of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, confirmed Tuesday that instrument landing system equipment was removed Friday from diagonal runway 14L/32R, rendering it largely unusable for arrivals.

He said the equipment was transferred to a new runway scheduled to open in October. But the runway can still be used for departures, Carrico said.

The dismantling of equipment came two days after State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) refused to call the runway bills for a vote in the House Transportation Committee.

Currie said by email Tuesday that the hearing was not delayed to allow time for dismantling to start. “No delay tactic whatsoever,” she wrote.

The hearing was continued until Wednesday, although Currie said by email that the bills are“still not quite ready for prime time but we are working on them.”

Officials of the Chicago Department of Aviation, the Federal Aviation Administration and Chicago’s City Hall refused to answer repeated questions Tuesday about decommissioning activities.

Another House sponsor of the runway bills, Michael McAuliffe, R-Chicago, called the dismantling “disturbing.”

“That doesn’t sound good. . . . I’m going to have to check into it,” he said.

On April 14, Chicago Department of Aviation officials told a committee of the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission that runway 14L/32R would be decommissioned Aug. 20 but not torn up until next spring. Emanuel indicated during the March 31 mayoral runoff debate that he was open to preserving the diagonal runways.

Charlier said removal of runway equipment while bills are pending contradicts one campaign commercial in which the mayor — wearing a V-neck sweater and sitting next to a glass of water — conceded he talks when he should be listening.

“He drank the water, took off his sweater and went back to acting like he did before,” Charlier said, “which is making decisions without listening to people.”

Contributing: Fran Spielman

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