The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Western-Belmont Overpass Was Briefly Useful, But It's Time To Say Goodbye

By Patty Wetli | January 11, 2016 8:44am
 The city has cried wolf a number of times when it comes to demolishing the  Western-Belmont overpass , but the Chicago Department of Transportation says it means business in 2016.
Western-Belmont Overpass
View Full Caption

ROSCOE VILLAGE — The city has cried wolf a number of times when it comes to demolishing the Western-Belmont overpass, but the Chicago Department of Transportation says it means business in 2016.

The viaduct allows cars traveling on Western Avenue to zoom over the intersection at Belmont. [DNAinfo/Erica Demarest]

The viaduct is set to meet the wrecking ball sometime in spring 2016 and over the course of the next 18 to 24 months will be replaced with a grade-level five-leg intersection at the Western-Belmont-Clybourn junction.

Representatives from CDOT will meet with residents to provide details of the design and an update on a projected construction timeline at a community open house 7-9 p.m. Monday in Lane Tech's cafeteria, 2501 W. Addison St. 

Why was the overpass built in the first place?

The polarizing Western-Belmont overpass was originally built to ease congestion around the now defunct Riverview Amusement Park. The park (pictured above) opened on the western edge of Roscoe Village in 1904 and the viaduct followed in 1961.

"Going to Riverview, I always considered the overpass to be the First Ride of The Day," one reader posted to Facebook.

Riverview abruptly closed in 1967 but the viaduct has lived on for 54 years and counting. 

Why it needs to go

An estimated 35,000 cars use the overpass daily, and it shows.

A 2012 inspection deemed the viaduct "structurally deficient" — a term that doesn't necessarily relate to safety, but may instead refer to speed, weight or volume limitations. Overall, the evaluation found the overpass to be of "minimum adequacy to be left in place."

It doesn't take a degree in structural engineering to notice the potholes or falling chunks of concrete.

"If you walk underneath that thing, it's a disaster," said Marc Hochmuth, who lives a block from the viaduct and photographed gaping wounds in December 2014.

"I can tell it's just crumbling," he said. "I've walked under it probably 250 times. Every time, there's pieces missing."

Falling chunks of concrete from the viaduct have been a concern for years. [Marc Hochmuth]

Why not replace the old viaduct with a new viaduct?

Current standards require wider lanes than when the viaduct was erected; a new bridge would have to be 12 feet wider, affecting businesess and homes in the area, according to Mike Eichten of AECOM, a consulting design and engineering firm working on the project.

And then there's the issue of cost. Eichten said that construction of a new viaduct could reach $40 million, and that the grade-level proposal was less expensive. 

What's in it for us?

The project's scope will encompass not only demolition of the bridge, but reconstruction of the Western Avenue bridge over the Chicago River, as well as reconstruction/resurfacing of Western Avenue between Waveland Avenue to the north and Jones Street to the south (Jones is south of Diversey).

For drivers: A third lane of travel will be added during peak hours and the plan provides for 80 new on-street parking spaces.

For pedestrians: Sidewalks will be widened to 13 feet, countdown signals will be installed at intersections and pedestrian refuge islands will be built at unsignalized crossings.

CDOT insists the five-leg intersection will create better traffic flow than the viaduct.

Though drivers now enjoy the sensation of flying over Belmont, that burst of speed typically comes to a screeching halt at Diversey or Roscoe, the viaduct's southern and northern ends, CDOT project manager Charlene Walsh said at a 2014 community meeting.

Eichten added: "Traffic is moving so quickly, there are a lot of crashes. It put a lot of burden on Diversey and Roscoe. That's why we expanded the project to a corridor, so we could make improvements to adjacent intersections."

Rendering of what the avenue will look like following reconstruction. [CDOT]

No pain no gain

Before residents enjoy any of these anticipated benefits, they're going to have to survive a lengthy construction period.

Traffic lanes will be reduced and shifted on Western Avenue during the project's various phases, according to Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th).

"It's going to be painful, no question," said Pawar.

Add to that the project's almost certain overlap with work at the Elston/Fullerton/Damen intersection, and the potential for gridlock on area streets is magnified.

What's next?

That's the question Monday's meeting is designed to answer, from the construction schedule to the impact on businesses and residents situated in the viaduct's shadow.

For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: