Why this is the worst summer construction season ever

Late for day care. Late for work. Late for meetings. Crawling along I-355. At a standstill on I-90. Sweating on Route 31. Whimpering on the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway.

Across the region, shellshocked commuters are shaking their fists at cranes and asking: Is this the worst construction season ever?

“I don't think it is,” Argonne Transportation Research Center Director Don Hillebrand said. “We've been doing a historical look at commutes in the glacial period and the mastodons used to have to wait hundreds of years for (workers) to clear the ice, according to the carbon dating.”

OK, maybe it's not as bad as the Ice Age. But in more modern times, 2014 is a standout for road work-related traffic jams, confirmed University of Illinois at Chicago expert Steve Schlickman.

“It is one of the worst and it is only going to get worse,” Schlickman predicted. “Particularly with the Circle Interchange project progressing toward more serious construction and disruption of one of the largest interstate interchanges in the country.”

Schlickman, head of UIC's Urban Transportation Center, was referring to the nexus of the Dan Ryan, Kennedy and Eisenhower expressways.

But that's Chicago. We've got our own problems in the suburbs with widening the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90), building an interchange at the Tri-State Tollway and I-57 plus work on I-390 (formerly known as the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway) that's creating a domino gridlock effect on the I-290/I-355 corridor in rush hour.

“There is a lot going on,” acknowledged Kristi Lafleur, executive director of the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority. “We're more than halfway through our biggest year ever. We've invested about $1.4 billion in capital improvements. There's 160 miles of laneway being rebuilt, 70 bridges being rebuilt and 20 interchanges being built or improved.

“As always, we ask our customers to be patient.”

For I-90 drivers, that patience needs to be Job-like. If you commute between Rockford and Elgin, you'll rejoice to know that the widening project should wrap up this year. But if your I-90 run extends from Elgin to O'Hare, then, condolences.

Once the tollway completes the western segment of the Jane Addams, it will ramp up work on the eastern part in 2015 and that won't finish until later in 2016.

As for the flyover bridge connecting I-390 and I-290, it should be drivable come 2017 and will eliminate the tedium of multiple stop lights now.

“It will be more of a free-flow interstate interchange,” Lafleur said.

As a sweetener to the traffic pill, she noted that the tollway's Build Illinois — a 15-year, $12 billion road program — has created about 14,000 construction-related jobs so far.

And, “we're trying to keep the same number of lanes open in rush hour (on the tollway system). We're asking drivers to please slow down and pay attention. There's different configurations and people are out there working.”

Got a horror story about traffic this summer? Drop me an email at

Dealing with it

All this gridlock talk driving up your blood pressure? Relax. Psychologist Joann Wright, the director of Clinical Training and Anxiety Services at Linden Oaks at Edward, can talk you down.

“Traffic jams are indeed frustrating,” Wright said. So, focus on what you can control, she advised. “Look at it this way: Two cars are next to each other standing still. In one car, the person is enjoying an awesome song and singing along, while the person in the other car is banging away at her steering wheel and cursing at the traffic. For whom is the traffic moving faster? It's a trick question. The answer is the traffic is moving at the same time for both people, but the one into the music is having a much better time!”

Wright also suggests:

• Nonjudgmentally stay in the moment. If you focus on what's actually in front of you (other cars, businesses, etc.) instead of how annoying, stressful or frustrating the situation is — you will likely be less stressed out.

• Accept your lack of control over the situation. Like the example given above, the traffic is going to move at the same pace whether you are freaking out or making the most of the situation, so you might as well turn up the jams and sing!

• Unglue from pesky thoughts. Thoughts about how stressful the moment is will surely come up. You can't prevent them, but you can allow them to float away.

Gridlock alert

The tollway will close parts of Airport Road and West River Road in Elgin located directly under and next to the Jane Addams this week through 2016.

Access is still allowed to homes, businesses and the Voyageur's Landing Forest Preserve.

Meet the author

Lots of attention has focused on air safety this month with high-profile crashes overseas and the 25th anniversary of the crash of United Airlines Flight 232. Author and pilot Laurence Gonzales just published a definitive chronicling of the event titled “Flight 232 — A Story of Disaster and Survival,” and he'll be appearing at 2 p.m. Aug. 10 at Read Between the Lynes bookstore, 129 W Van Buren St., Woodstock.

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  New freeway construction along Interstate 90 and Interstate 290 has some people seeing orange - as in orange cones. Traffic backs up near rush hour and at other times of the day. Mark Welsh/
  New freeway construction along Interstate 90 and Interstate 290 has some people seeing orange - as in orange cones. Traffic backs up near rush hour and at other times of the day. Mark Welsh/
  Construction continues as heavy traffic moves on I-290/53 southbound toward the Thorndale exit in the Elk Grove Village area. Mark Welsh/
  The new expressway near 290 and the Elgin-O'Hare has traffic in that area at a standstill during rush hour. Mark Welsh/
  The new expressway near Interstate 290 and the Elgin-O'Hare has traffic in that area at a standstill during rush hour. Mark Welsh/
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