What's different about my annual summary of large and annoying roadwork projects this year?
For the first time ever, I get to announce the debut of a significant construction project that will transform how we drive around the region.
Watch out for workersAs construction season gears up, don't forgot to follow posted speeds of 45 mph or less in work zones. Each year in Illinois, more than 7,000 crashes occur in work zones. Nineteen people died in construction-zone crashes in 2012, including two workers. And if those grim statistics don't convince you, fines can range from $375 to $1,000 and license suspensions.
That's because, when it's finally completed, the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway extension and western bypass won't just offer a new route to the airport. It will provide a strategic new link from the Western suburbs to the south and north of O'Hare and triple the capacity of the current corridor to between 75,000 and 150,000 vehicles a day.
Not bad for a truncated road jokingly referred to as the IHOP (Itasca to Hanover Park) Expressway.
"Ultimately it's going to give people the ability to have additional choices in their travel," Illinois tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said. "Obviously, there will be western access to the airport, but the other untold story is additional access to the south of the airport and that's a huge improvement."
The project is just beginning the first leg of what is expected to be a 13-year construction journey. And, of course, the Elgin-O'Hare isn't the only ingredient in this season's roadwork stew. A massive widening of the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) starts in earnest, work on the first interchange between the Tri-State Tollway and I-57 in the South Suburbs continues and repairs to local arteries like Willow Road, Route 31 and Butterfield Road will keep us all irritable this summer.
Here are some highway and tollway construction hot spots that you should either avoid or -- if you can't -- bring along relaxation tapes.
• Reconstruction of the I-55 and Central Avenue interchange near Midway Airport
• Ramp improvements on the Tri-State Tollway (I-294) at Route 120 (Belvidere Road); at Lake Street near Elmhurst; and at I-55 (including work at the Hinsdale Oasis, Joliet Road and Wolf Road)
• Reconstruction of ramps near O'Hare from the northbound I-294 to: westbound I-90; westbound I-190 to O'Hare; River Road; and the eastbound Kennedy Expressway
• Ramp repairs on Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88) at Highland Avenue, Spring Road and York Road in east DuPage County
• Resurfacing pavement on the Veterans Memorial Tollway (I-355) near the Army Trail Toll Plaza and Boughton Road Toll Plaza
• Widening on the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) between Elgin and Rockford in the eastbound lanes and construction of a full interchange at Route 47 in Huntley
• A new interchange at the Tri-State Tollway (I-294) and I-57.
Hang in there, road warrior.
Circling back to the Elgin-O'Hare project, the tollway will extend the expressway east along Thorndale Avenue into the west side of the airport. A bypass on O'Hare's western edge will connect with the EOH in the center, I-90 to the north in Des Plaines and I-294 to the south in Franklin Park.
This year, work crews will build noise walls between Irving Park and Meacham Roads and bridges at Rohlwing and Elmhurst Roads. The expressway to O'Hare should finish in 2017 when work on the bypass begins. The bypass won't wrap up until 2026.
When complete, the majority of traffic on the expressway will move from the northwest to the southwest, tollway analysts predict.
That means a lot of drivers from east Kane, north DuPage and northwest Cook counties will be using the expressway and western bypass to access the south Tri-State. A much-desired exit from the bypass to freight transport centers in Franklin Park and Bensenville will ease existing congestion on local streets.
And it's not just about the mainline. New or improved interchanges along the toll road will change commuting patterns. Locations include I-290, Park Boulevard, Arlington Heights Road, Wood Dale Road, Route 83 and York Road/O'Hare on the expressway; and Higgins Road, Irving Park Road and Taft Avenue/Green Street/ Franklin Avenue.
Hanover Park Mayor Rod Craig, for one, is "excited" about the project. "The significance includes economic development in the future for communities along the route and for DuPage County and areas west as the road is further developed and good access occurs with ancillary roads," he said.
The bad news for drivers is that the existing segment of the expressway will be tolled and rates on the entire stretch will be about 20 cents a mile, a significant jump from the average 6 cents a mile elsewhere on the system. It will be the first tollway that's all-electronic, and local leaders are lobbying the tollway to create a fee structure that's equitable. The agency is working on the details, Lafleur said. "They don't want shorter-distance travelers to be penalized for shorter trips versus longer-distance travelers getting more for their money," she explained.
As a result, you likely won't pay while exiting and entering the toll road.
"We don't want to create the perception people should or shouldn't get off at certain interchanges," Lafleur said. "We have to do it in a way where there isn't a lot of opportunities for free movements and to capture people at the right points. There will be multiple gantries to collect tolls but not plazas in the traditional way with a building with a collector. There will be different charges depending where the gantries are placed, but we want to keep it as close to the 20 cents-a-mile as we can."
If the Elgin-O'Hare is the macro version of a project that will change driving patterns in a big way, let's end with a micro version.
The intersection of Route 31 and Algonquin Road in downtown Algonquin is vital to travel in McHenry County. So when it chokes up because of flooding, construction or traffic accidents, thousands of drivers suffer.
IDOT is changing that with a new four-lane segment that allows through traffic on Route 31 to bypass the intersection west of Algonquin's downtown.
The project wraps up next summer.
"This year we're relocating Crystal Creek, building retaining walls and pouring concrete for the bridge. It's been 20 years in the making ... to get this accomplished is huge for the area," McHenry County Design Manager Wally Dittrich said.
Got any thoughts about the Elgin-O'Hare or local construction this year? Drop me an email at Your voice
Rich Hail of Libertyville is talking infrastructure in the wake of last week's column on flood control. "I have noticed around 'newer' parts of Libertyville that there are a lot of retention/detention ponds in the neighborhoods and businesses," Hail writes. "I know that these have low flow orifices to slow the outflow of water. Could these be more restrictive or adjustable during high rain levels? All the retention ponds I have looked at were high but after only a few days they were back to normal.
"The point is they are empty even as there is continued flooding in other areas such as along the Des Plaines River. If it weren't too difficult to manage, I don't see what the problem would be holding more water back longer until the flooding clears downstream."
Learn all about alternative fuels and vehicles at Green Drives 2013 on May 9. Sponsored by the Chicago Area Clean Cities Coalition and recycling group SCARCE, the event runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. at 799 Roosevelt Road, Glen Ellyn.
CTA train service in the Loop will be disrupted until the morning of May 6 because of the Wells Street Bridge reconstruction. Temporary suspensions of the Purple Line Express and reductions on the Red and Brown Lines will be ongoing. For more information about restrictions and alternate bus service, go to ">firstname.lastname@example.org/wellsbridge;[URL].[/URL]