CHINATOWN — The long-planned realignment of busy Wentworth and Cermak avenues will begin next year, part of $62 million worth of improvements in the area, city officials said Wednesday.
The overhaul is part of a series of construction projects announced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday that he said are designed to increase access between Chinatown and the Loop. The plans also include pedestrian upgrades and the creation of a new road — the "Wells-Wentworth Connector" — that will run straight through a plot of vacant riverside land.
The unevenly configured four-way intersection of Cermak and Wentworth has an active Chicago Fire Department firehouse and sees a lot of traffic exiting the Dan Ryan Expy. It can be problematic for motorists and pedestrians, city officials said, and often requires the intervention of traffic safety officers to help navigate.
Under the city's plan, Wentworth would be realigned to match up on Cermak's north and south sides, a move neighborhood leaders say would help bridge the new and old Chinatown neighborhoods.
To make it happen, the city will have to buy some land, including a state-owned parking lot and three private parcels on the northwest corner of the intersection: 202, 204 and 208 W. Cermak. At least one of the lots houses a restaurant, while another is home to the International Bank of Chicago.
Work is expected to begin in fall 2015.
Also part of the plan is creating better pedestrian access along a stretch of Wentworth near 19th Street, an oft-cramped two-way street devoid of sidewalks. The renovations are expected to ease pedestrian access to the sleek new field house at Ping Tom Park.
That work is slated to begin later this year and is expected to wrap up by the end of 2015.
It's unclear when the new road connecting Wells to Wentworth between 18th Street and Roosevelt Road will be built. In a news release, the mayor's office said construction would be "coordinated in conjunction with a future mixed use redevelopment agreement."
The more than 60 acres of vacant land where the road would run sit next to the Chicago River and were formerly owned by former Democratic fundraiser Tony Rezko, who had planned a major residential and retail development there before he was convicted on fraud and bribery charges in 2008.
Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Pete Scales said the project has been in the works for decades, but fell through with the problems of the former Rezko site.
"This project has been in the works in one form or another since the 1960s," he said in an email. "CDOT did a feasibility study in 2002, but the project stalled because of the large residential development to the north didn't happen.
"There is renewed interest in this project now, which is why we are moving forward with the plan."
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