'Major traffic' ahead as Kennedy Expressway construction begins in March

Illinois Department of Transportation officials are not sugarcoating the impact of a three-year, $150 million bridge structure rehabilitation project on the Kennedy Expressway.

“We anticipate there's going to be some major traffic delays as more than 275,000 motorists use that expressway each day,” IDOT spokeswoman Maria Castaneda said Tuesday at a briefing.

As IDOT Bureau Chief of Construction Jon Schumacher noted, “the road is over 50 years old, and the last major rehabilitation was 30 years ago.”

“Everybody is aware of the beating that the Kennedy takes on a daily basis ... so it's time for another major rehabilitation to occur,” he said.

IDOT is advising drivers to take Metra or the CTA to escape congestion, or to avoid traveling in rush hour during the project.

A total of 36 bridges will be fixed between the Edens Expressway and Ohio Street, along with pavement patching as needed.

In addition, the gates that open and close the reversible lanes will be rehabbed, and Hubbard's Cave will get a fresh coat of paint and new LEDs.

Assuming decent weather, construction will start March 20, with crews focusing on the inbound lanes in 2023.

IDOT plans to close the two left lanes first so workers can rebuild the bridge decks. The two right lanes will stay open, and the reversible lanes will also accommodate inbound traffic.

In July, the right lanes will close and the left lanes will reopen. The work is expected to stretch from March through November.

Drivers should prepare for traffic shifts, plus overnight lane closures. Access ramps will remain open, but some will be closed when necessary.

Looking ahead, IDOT will shut down the reversible lanes in 2024 to rehab the bridge decks and the Reversible Lane Access Control system. Work will continue on Hubbard's Cave.

The gate system dates back to the 1970s. “They're running on technology that's 50 years old and becoming increasingly difficult to maintain,” Schumacher said.

In 2025, construction will switch to the outbound Kennedy.

The project comes just after the Jane Byrne Interchange revamp wrapped up in 2022. The pain will be worth it, officials said.

“This is a major rehabilitation,” Schumacher said. “This is going to be something that's going to be out there for many years — that we should not have to come back to fix for a decent amount of years.”

It can take up to six weeks to rehab a bridge, engineers said. Steps include demolishing the deck, repairing and replacing joints, plus installing concrete and letting it set.

In the coming days, workers will be installing protective shielding underneath the bridges to capture debris.

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