NAVY PIER — The city announced Tuesday the start of long-sought-after construction of the Navy Pier Flyover that will ease congestion on a section of the Lakefront Trail so harrowing that U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin compared biking on it to a bumper-car ride.
Construction on the first phase of the three-part, $60 million project is expected to begin next week. The first phase will go from Jane Addams Park just north of Grand Avenue east of Lake Shore Drive south to the Ogden Slip at a cost of $26.4 million, paid by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the State of Illinois.
The first phase is expected to be completed by the end of next year. The second phase will improve the path between the slip and the Chicago River, and the final phase will expand the path on the Chicago River Bridge — one of the most congested sections of the trail.
The total project is expected to be finished in 2018.
It is expected to smooth traffic for cyclists and pedestrians along one of the more congested sections of the 18.5-mile Lakefront Trail. Much of that trail is smooth sailing for cyclists, but the tangled roadways at Navy Pier have been a thorny obstacle for decades. The flyover will carry the trail on an elevated path over streets in and out of Navy Pier and across the river.
"The decades of debate and discussion are over," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a news conference Tuesday at Jane Addams Park. "And now we're gonna develop this flyover and do it in a way that will truly make this 18 miles one of the most scenic parts of the City of Chicago."
"I come out to dedicate projects which I really don't know much about, but I do know about this project," said Durbin, Illinois' senior senator and a Democrat. "Because I've tried to ride my bike down this trail, and when you reach this point it is some combination of bumper cars, Whac-a-Mole — I can't describe to you. But you take your life in your hand trying to move from this spot to the other side. That's gonna change."
Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld said the project "would greatly reduce conflicts between pedestrians, bikes and cars going to and from the Navy Pier area."
Chicago Park District Supt. Michael Kelly said it would greatly improve the experience for the 20 million people who use the Lakefront Trail each year as it stretches from Kathy Osterman Beach in Edgewater to South Shore. He added that it would reduce street congestion in and around Navy Pier as well.
The snarled traffic has been especially irritating for River North residents. Last week, Bob O'Neill, president of the Grant Park Conservancy, said, "Lake Shore Drive really divides the lake — it has several levels, it's ugly, it's really ugly, and it's right on the lake. It's just this car-oriented disaster for pedestrians, for cyclists, for anyone going to Navy Pier."
"The Streeterville community is extremely excited about the flyover bridge starting," said Gail Spreen, president of the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents. "The safety of residents, bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers is always at risk with the current situation of using the narrow sidewalks as the Lakefront Trail. The new flyover bridge will widen and create a dedicated pedestrian and bike path which will be separated from vehicular traffic."
Spreen added that SOAR also looks forward to redeveloping the neglected Jane Addams Park and DuSable Park once the project is completed.
Plans for the so-called Navy Pier flyover go back to the administration of Mayor Richard M. Daley. Emanuel lumped plans for it in with the McCormick Place expansion and the DePaul arena last May.
Part of the extended four-year construction is due to trying to minimize disruption to traffic at Navy Pier and in River North. According to Scheinfeld, the first phase this summer will call for the right lane and shoulder of northbound Lake Shore Drive to be closed between Illinois Street and Grand Avenue, and for the northbound on ramp at Grand to be limited to one lane. The Lakefront Trail will remain open, she added, "but there will be some detours as necessary."