Pyke: Navigating suburban road work challenges drivers

Why is my car headed north on Route 53/I-290 when it should be southbound?

Somewhere, a few seconds back on westbound I-90, between the loop-the-loop of merging lanes, dark conditions and construction distractions, the familiar southbound exit vaporized.

It's not an isolated mistake. The roadwork boom across the region is causing countless bloopers by drivers reacting to unexpected situations on familiar roads.

Familiarizing drivers with adjustments to their normal routes is a huge challenge, said Illinois tollway Chief Engineer Paul Kovacs.

“Even though there's a lot of specific advance warning signs, sometimes people don't see them,” he said. “We'll go back and check it later and sure enough, there are advance warning signs.”

Commuter Rhonda Howard thinks a new interchange at the northbound Tri-State Tollway (I-94) and Route 132 (Grand Avenue) in Gurnee is causing traffic “bedlam.”

“I kept waiting for them to include those who exit at Route 132 west in the separate roadway they developed for the eastbound exit,” she wrote. “Imagine my disappointment when that never happened. I don't believe the eastbound folks are in half the danger the westbound folks face each night.”

The hazard comes from drivers unfamiliar with the new eastbound exit lanes or who are impatient veering out onto the mainline, Howard said.

She described a near-miss last week when drivers slammed on their brakes to avoid hitting a man who had swerved to escape being rear-ended.

“He was lucky enough not to get hit by a truck that was bombing along in that lane,” she wrote.

The cloverleaf layout at the interchange is the same, but the tollway built new ramps and increased safety by adding a barrier to separate the eastbound exit lanes from the mainline, Kovacs said.

The barrier was a priority because Six Flags Great America is so close and “has the potential to be a big traffic generator,” Kovacs said. “We were interested in solving unpredictable backups associated with that big traffic generator.”

Tollway engineers follow the “bible,” or national Manual on Uniform Traffic Devices, when it comes to speeds, signs and road design, he explained.

As for the I-90 westbound merge with Route 53/I-290, construction should wrap up in 2016. But the dance drivers undergo weaving onto the I-90 mainline or Route 53/I-290 ramp will continue.

A remake of that interchange would cost about half a billion dollars and it's also under the purview of IDOT and the Federal Highway Administration, Kovacs said.

One more thing

Numerous studies have suggested a driver requires about 2.5 seconds to perceive and react to a potential problem.

But University of Illinois at Chicago civil engineering professor Kouros Mohammadian thinks driver behavior varies greatly.

“It's a function of many, many different types of factors,” said Mohammadian, a travel behavior expert. “The type of car — whether it's a new sedan or a large truck. How good the braking system is. What the roads and the environmental conditions are like, such as the time of day and weather. Then, there's the driver's condition — the age, alcohol and drug use, driver fatigue, level of experience, and the complexity of the decision-making situation.”

Mohammadian recounted being confused himself recently, while navigating the Jane Byrne Interchange, which is being rebuilt.

It's essential to give drivers the tools — like proper signing and pavement markings — to make the right decisions, he said. Otherwise, “you may end up in a situation that results in conflict and complicated decision-making.”

If you see unsafe conditions, tell the tollway, Kovacs said.

“We do get a lot of people contacting us, we take those very seriously.”

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Your voice

Brian Buchanan wants to know why the new I-190 exit onto northbound Mannheim Road is so much longer than the original version.

“It appears from Google Earth it is about 0.8 mile more now to come out of (O'Hare) airport and go north up Mannheim versus the prior way,” he said.

IDOT spokeswoman Gianna Urgo said the ramp is among several projects intended to expedite traffic flow between the Tri-State and I-190.

“The removal of the ramp that was previously used to get to Mannheim will allow better flow of traffic leaving the airport since travel to Mannheim will now use the extension of Balmoral Avenue,” Urgo said.

Got a travel beef? Drop me an email at

Gridlock alert

• Expect a messy situation at Butterfield Road and Highland Avenue with ramp closures between Downers Grove and Lombard through Friday.

• Jane Addams Tollway regulars should watch for ramp detours affecting eastbound drivers exiting and entering between Elmhurst Road and the Des Plaines Oasis through November.

On Pace for fare hike

Pace's 2016 budget will include a 25-cent fare increase for riders paying in cash. Officials say they hope to encourage customers to switch to the Ventra card system, where base fares remain at $1.75. Next year, the suburban bus agency plans to add Wi-Fi to all buses and expand express service on I-90.

'Massive' roadwork ahead for drivers

Where you can expect construction traffic in Cook County

I-90 reconstruction will cost more to finish on time

Prepare for exit, lane changes on I-90, I-88, I-290

Tollway's biggest workhorse due for a makeover

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