CHICAGO — Downtown drivers rejoice!
Wacker Drive — the fastest shortcut through the always-jammed Loop — is open again.
After nearly three years of construction, the barricades were pulled off the streets and traffic finally returned to Wacker Drive Friday. Men with hard hats said they planned to celebrate with a beer after their shift to mark the end of the $300 million construction project.
Upper Wacker Drive opened at 9 a.m., while Lower Wacker reopened at 2 p.m. according to Chicago Department of Transportation officials.
"Wacker Drive is an important thoroughfare for tens of thousands of motorists and pedestrians," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said to a crowd assembled at the intersection of Van Buren Street and Wacker. "By modernizing and investing in our infrastructure, we are investing in our future and an improved quality of life for Chicagoans."
Dark, dank and dirty, Lower Wacker Drive has linked Congress Parkway with Lake Shore Drive since 1955 and has served as a great shortcut for drivers in the know to circumvent upper level traffic congestion.
The drive underwent a $200 million, 20-month reconstruction project in 2001-2002 on its east-west portion. Crews broke ground on the north-south section in April 2010, displacing thousands of vehicles a day from their normal underground route and increasing congestion above.
Drivers on the new and improved Lower Wacker now will see another foot of vertical clearance as well as improved lighting and ventilation. In addition, the service lanes utilized by delivery vehicles are now separated from the through lanes in an effort to reduce congestion and improve traffic flow, officials said.
Upper Wacker has also gone through a major face lift, with as much emphasis on aesthetics as on the structural. The ramps from Upper to Lower Wacker Drive at Jackson, Adams and Washington streets were removed and replaced with landscaped medians. Also, the formerly two-way ramp at West Monroe Street will now be a one-way ramp down to Lower Wacker. Other landscaping was added to sidewalks along Upper Wacker as well.
The Upper Wacker portion began in January 2011 at Randolph and Washington and moved block by block southward to Jackson.
The intersection of Jackson Boulevard and Wacker re-opened on November 15th.
CDOT says the massive $300 million project project ended on budget and on schedule.
"I'm a believer, especially in Lower Wacker Drive," Gov. Pat Quinn said. "It helps decrease pollution, decreases congestion — it's the eikght Wonder of the World."