Bye-bye, bottleneck? IDOT wraps up Jane Byrne redo with fanfare and promises of faster commutes

After years of explaining why the Jane Byrne Interchange redo was taking so long, state officials had reason to celebrate its substantial completion Wednesday.

Rebuilding the nexus of the Dan Ryan, Eisenhower and Kennedy expressways was "one of the most complex projects in the country and most significant ever at IDOT," Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Omer Osman said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the National Hellenic Museum, near the worksite.

The interchange opened in the 1960s and had gradually devolved into one of the most congested spots in the nation by the time reconstruction began in 2013. Planners estimated work would finish in 2018 and cost $535 million; the final tally was $806.4 million.

The completion means "25% fewer crashes for motorists and thousands of jobs created," Gov. J.B. Pritzker said, adding that a 50% reduction in traffic delays was anticipated.

"We couldn't be more grateful to the men and woman of labor and the dedication of every single worker that's been on this project. You overcame obstacles and got this done," Pritzker said.

Kathy Byrne, the daughter of former Mayor Jane Byrne, wore a necklace that belonged to her late mother that has the city's seal on the back and "One Chicago" on the front.

"What the Jane Byrne interchange does - is it brings all of Chicago together - from the south, from the west, from the north and it makes us one Chicago," Byrne told an assembled crowd.

Here are some key elements of the project:

• A two-lane ramp from the northbound Dan Ryan to westbound I-290 that stretches 1 mile before depositing cars on the Ike near Morgan Street. Previously, drivers heading to the Western suburbs experienced "Hunger Games"-like stress merging onto a one-lane ramp with sharp curves.

• Wider ramps from the eastbound Eisenhower to the Kennedy and Dan Ryan expressways.

• A new northbound collector-distributor road on the Dan Ryan and Kennedy expressways to prevent conflicts between drivers trying to merge.

• The relocation of ramps from Jackson and Adams streets to I-90/94 so drivers now enter the expressway on the right side, not the left side.

• A new lane in both directions of the Kennedy and Dan Ryan.

• Wider shoulder lanes on the mainline expressways, plus shoulder lanes on ramps for stalled cars and first responders.

• Driver-friendly curves on ramps to help trucks and cars navigate better, especially in snow and icy conditions.

• Wider sidewalks on bridges over the expressways and bike lanes.

• A water-retention system with capacity for two Olympic-sized pools to prevent flooding.

"This interchange was the No. 1 truck bottleneck in the country," Illinois Trucking Association Executive President Matthew Hart said.

"Even though it has been under construction, we still improved it - it's now No. 6. And we fully expect that now the construction zones are gone, this will hopefully get off the top 10 list altogether."

Asked why the project cost so much and took so long, IDOT engineers said the original timing was overly ambitious. Other unexpected delays arose from unstable soil, an abandoned water tunnel that turned out to be active, complicated utility relocations and COVID-19.

Some ramps have not fully opened but should be operating by next week.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker listens as Illinois Secretary of Transportation Omer Osman answers questions from the media Wednesday after the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Jane Byrne Interchange at the National Hellenic Museum in Chicago. Pat Nabong/Chicago Sun-Times
Kathy Byrne, daughter of former Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne, holds her mother's necklace as she speaks Wednesday during the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Jane Byrne Interchange at the National Hellenic Museum in Chicago's Greektown neighborhood. Pat Nabong/Chicago Sun-Times
Officials pose during Wednesday's ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Jane Byrne Interchange at the National Hellenic Museum in the Greektown neighborhood of Chicago. Pat Nabong/Chicago Sun-Times
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