BRIDGEPORT — For the next three weekends, the Loop will be more like a knot for Chicago drivers.
That's because the Illinois Department of Transportation is set to begin demolishing the Ontario Street Bridge, causing closures on the Kennedy Expressway and the Ohio Street exit ramp on different weekends for the rest of the month.
Beginning June 13, crews will be demolishing the bridge, which serves as an on-ramp to the eastbound Kennedy Expressway. The $16.5 million project will take down the bridge in three sections, and state and city transportation officials are urging travelers to use public transportation or find different traffic routes.
"We're expecting a challenge," Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider said of the anticipated traffic jams. "We're taking every preventative measure, every cautionary measure we can to ensure that this is as painless as possible."
Schneider said officials hope publicizing the project ahead of time will encourage drivers to choose a different way to get around the city. On a typical day, about 260,000 drivers use the Kennedy Expressway.
The new Ontario Street Bridge, which is also a single lane, has already been built and opened June 9 in time for the morning rush hour. The new bridge will be closed all three weekends, but will reopen after demolition of the old bridge is complete, IDOT officials said.
The expressway closures will make it harder for people to get to a number of festivals and events around the city, which include the Chicago Blues Fest and the Pride Parade.
But Schneider said bridge's demolition had to happen over three concurrent weekends. Otherwise, crews would run into "challenges with the structural integrity of the rest" of the bridge. She said IDOT worked with city officials to find three weekends this summer that would have the least impact on events around Chicago.
Weather during the fall becomes more problematic, so the demolition had to happen during the summer, Schneider said.
During demolition, the Chicago Department of Transportation will suspend all road work on arterial streets that can be used as alternate routes to ease traffic congestion. Metra and the Chicago Transit Authority will offer expanded service as well, said Gary Schenkel, director of the Office of Emergency Management and Communications.
"Make no mistake, the city is open for business," Schenkel said.
But IDOT officials have no illusions, saying traffic will be bad.
"It's going to back up," said John Fortmann, an IDOT engineer. "We're going to need a number of people, a significant number of people to use mass transit."
Weather could prove a problem for work crews, backup weekend dates are July 18, July 25 and August 8.
"Unless it gets extreme, we'll be out there doing demolition work," Schneider said.
Closures will begin at 10 p.m. this Friday, June 13. Eastbound I-90/94 and the reversible lanes will be closed, as well as the far left lane heading westbound. Beginning at Diversey Avenue, eastbound traffic will be reduced to two lanes, and traffic will be temporary diverted to Ohio Street to avoid the demolition site.
Closures for upcoming weekends include:
- June 20-22: closure of westbound I-90/94 and the reversible lanes
- June 27-29: closure of eastbound I-90/94 exit to Ohio Street
More details about the project, alternate routes and timetables can be found on IDOT's website here.
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