Chicago and state officials mingled cheery mantras of "Chicago's open for business" with dire warnings of a traffic meltdown if drivers jump on the Kennedy Expressway (I-90/94) this weekend.
Friday evening marks the start of three consecutive weekends of demolition work on the westbound Ontario Street ramp onto the Kennedy. Workers will remove 45 truckloads of old concrete and other debris this month and rebuild the interchange of Ohio and Ontario streets with the Kennedy, which means lane closures and resulting congestion.
This upcoming weekend could be the worst for Northwest suburban drivers heading into Chicago, who will face a bottleneck on the eastbound Kennedy from 10 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Monday. The expressway will be down to two lanes from Chicago to Grand avenues in addition to the reversible lanes. Traffic will be diverted to the eastbound Ohio Street exit and temporary pavement.
"It's on our list of structurally deficient (bridges)," Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider said Friday at a news conference. "It's important to make this improvement to ensure the safety of the traveling public ... we know it's going to be an inconvenience for motorists."
Metra will be adding cars to its Union Pacific North and Northwest Lines plus the Milwaukee District North and Milwaukee District West during the three weekends to handle additional passengers, Assistant Deputy Executive Director Pete Zwolfer said.
The CTA also offers daily parking on weekends for $5 at the Rosemont, Harlem and Cumberland stations on the Blue Line.
With 260,000 vehicles a day on the Kennedy, planners warned of backups stretching for miles if motorists fail to seek alternates or use transit. If you must drive, exit before the downtown area and use arterial roads like Elston Avenue to reach the city or Lawrence Avenue to access Lake Shore Drive, officials suggested.
The project requires three weekends because the bridge "is unique construction," IDOT bridge maintenance engineer Sarah Wilson said. "It's one solid piece of concrete, it's not multiple beams so the demolition can't be done in pieces at a time. We have to do the whole area at a time."
Next weekend, from 10 p.m. Friday, June 20, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 23, the westbound lanes on the Kennedy will close from Grand to Ogden avenues in addition to the reversible lanes. Vehicles will be diverted to the eastbound Ohio Street and Orleans Street. Eisenhower Expressway drivers should note the exit to the westbound Kennedy from the Ike will close that weekend also.
The last phase of construction runs from 10 p.m. Friday, June 27, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 30. The eastbound Kennedy exit to Ohio Street and westbound Ontario Street ramp to the eastbound Kennedy will close.
To learn more, go to www.dot.il.gov/KennedyatOhio/detour.html.