Chicago road construction plan aims to minimize pain

Chicagoans brace for three major freeway projects at once.

As commuters prepare for construction on the Eisenhower, the Congress Bridge and Wacker Drive this week, they may be wondering, "Why are they doing this all at the same time?"

It's not a coincidence -- the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago planned the projects together with the idea that it will save commuters misery in the long run, according to Illinois Department of Transportation spokeswoman Marisa Kollias.

Bus, rail unions rally for more U.S. transit funding Bike to Work Week, Walk to Work Day in the works.

"It's all in coordination," Kollias said. "It's really an unprecedented effort to build better roads in the downtown area and heading out to the western suburbs. We're working as one team."

Starting Thursday, the Illinois Department of Transportation plans to begin resurfacing 27 miles of the expressway, from Thorndale to the Loop. The project will last until the end of October.

At the same time, repairs begin on the Congress bridge leading in and out of downtown, and Wacker Drive ramps to and from Congress will be closed in preparation for Wacker Drive construction later this spring. Lower Wacker will go to one lane in each direction Thursday.

Work also continues on the inbound Kennedy Expy. in the Loop.

"I think a lot of people wonder why . . . do this all at once," said Kollias of the Ike/Congress/ Wacker juggernaut.

"The idea is to disrupt the public as little as possible. Even though it's a disruption, we'd rather do it all at once and be done. If we were to do it separately, it would take 10 years or more."

The Ike work should be done by the end of October. The Congress Bridge work will take two construction seasons -- 2010 and 2011. Both projects together cost $113.2 million.

On the Eisenhower, construction will shut down one lane in each direction. Daytime lane closures will end once bridge work is complete -- that's expected to be at the end of June on the eastern portion, from I-88 to the Circle Interchange, and by the end of August on the western portion.

On the Congress Bridge, lanes will be cut to two lanes inbound and one lane outbound for work on the northern bridge -- next year work will switch to the southern bridge.

Wacker Drive will take three years and entails rebuilding both the upper and lower levels of Wacker from Randolph Street to Congress Parkway. The $366 million project will include reconfiguring the Wacker Drive/Congress interchange to make merging easier and add green space.

The Eisenhower is expected to go under the backhoe again in about six years for a rebuilding project, which could involve widening the expressway between Austin and Mannheim, where it currently contracts from four lanes to three lanes. Also possible are high-occupancy vehicle and/or bus rapid transit lanes.


The three-year Wacker Drive project gets started this week with the closing of ramps to and from Congress on Thursday. Lower Wacker will go to one lane in each direction. For more on the project, see the Chicago Department of Transportation's new Web site at for news and traffic impacts.

Source: Chicago Sun Times, BY MARY WISNIEWSKI