RIVER NORTH — A busy one-way block by the Merchandise Mart will go two-way to accommodate the new traffic accompanying a new Wolf Point tower.
The Chicago Plan Commission signed off Thursday on the second phase of development at Wolf Point, a prime riverfront site slated for three new skyscrapers.
The phase includes a proposed 66-story apartment tower and riverfront park, along with a bevy of traffic changes that aim to alleviate the traffic expected to hit the block once the tower opens in 2019.
The commission approved a new "contraflow" lane allowing motorists to drive southbound on Orleans Street from Hubbard Street to the newly-created Wolf Point Plaza.
Orleans traffic currently only travels northbound on the block, which runs along the Mart.
"The addition of this one block stretch of southbound Orleans will improve connectivity from the expressway and ease current congestion on the surrounding streets," Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) wrote to constituents earlier this month.
Northbound traffic on Orleans. [Twitter/yourmunicipal]
Contraflow lanes are often used for buses, bicycles, or other vehicles that travel in the opposite direction of surrounding lanes. The commission also approved several turn arrows, traffic signals, crosswalks, other things aimed at accommodating the increased traffic expected in the area.
Since the lane will only run to Wolf Point, it won't serve as a perfect alternate route for commuters entering Downtown from the Ohio Feeder Ramp off the Kennedy and Dan Ryan expressways. Some commuters may see the traffic switch as one less lane they can take northbound to the Ontario ramp connecting to the highways.
The Franklin Bridge, which currently narrows from three to two lanes at Hubbard Street, will narrow a bit sooner, just north of the bridge, said Mike Claffey, a spokesman for the Chicago Department of Transportation.
The project's timeline has not yet been set, but the work will be done around the time the tower opens in 2019, Claffey said.
An independent traffic study believes the new lane's traffic impact will be "negligible" since Wells Street is viewed as a better north-south route to the feeder ramps. The new lane is merely aimed at improving access to and from Wolf Point.
Here's a full list of approved traffic changes coming to Wolf Point:
•A new left-turn arrow for northbound Orleans Street traffic turning west onto Hubbard Street.
•A new left-turn arrow for westbound Kinzie Street traffic turning south onto Wells Street.
•A new right-turn arrow for southbound Wells Street traffic turning west onto Merchandise Mart Drive.
•A new left-turn arrow for eastbound Wolf Point Plaza Drive traffic turning north onto Orleans Street.
•A new left-turn arrow for northbound Orleans Street turning west onto Wolf Point Plaza Drive.
•A new traffic signal, with pedestrian countdown signal heads, at the intersection of Kingsbury and Kinzie streets.
•New pedestrian countdown signals at Wacker Drive and Lake Street.
•New pedestrian countdown signals at Wacker Drive and Wells Street.
•New pedestrian countdown signals at Hubbard and Wells streets.
•New pedestrian countdown signals at Wacker Drive and Orleans Street.
•New pedestrian countdown signals at Orleans Street and Wolf Point Plaza Drive.
•New pedestrian countdown signals at the intersection of Lake Street, Canal Street and Milwaukee Avenue.
•A new traffic signal off the Merchandise Mart ramp connecting to Kinzie Street near Wells.
•New crosswalks at Wacker Drive and Orleans Street, Orleans Street and Merchandise Mart Drive, Wells and Merchandise Mart Drive, and another at the intersection of Lake, Canal and Milwaukee.
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