Brace your engines: Five things to know about Kennedy rehab, Part 2

Is there a bright side to the resumption of a three-year Kennedy Expressway construction project on Monday?

“We’re one-third done,” Illinois Department of Transportation District 1 Bureau Chief of Construction Jon Schumacher noted.

We can’t dispute that. It’s also a great opportunity to practice anger-management skills as your car baby-steps in the work zone between the Edens Expressway and Ohio Street.

Year 2 focuses on rehabbing the reversible lanes, which close Monday night.

And when the $150 million project wraps up in 2025, IDOT promises a pristine road surface sans potholes.

The inbound lanes were fixed in 2023, and “it’s a smoother commute so nobody’s spilling their coffee,” Schumacher said.

Let’s dig into the details.

What’s different this year?

As in 2023, crews will rehab bridge decks on the reversible lanes, patch pavement, add LED lighting and paint Hubbard’s Cave.

Also, “we’ll replace the REVLAC system, which is our reversible lane access control system,” Schumacher said at a Thursday briefing. The swinging gates that control access to the reversible lanes were last redone in 1990.

“We’re going to modernize the entire system so it’s going to be more efficient to switch the lanes inbound and outbound when we need it. By upgrading them, it’s going to make the system be able to switch over faster and also be much more reliable as far as breakdowns go.”

Construction on the inbound lanes caused traffic misery in 2023. Why is this necessary?

The Kennedy Expressway opened in 1960. That means 36 bridges on the corridor have reached the end of their useful life span.

“We are going out and doing a major rehabilitation now so we don’t have to do a replacement, which would take a lot longer and be much more intrusive to the motoring public,” Schumacher said. It also means no more emergency patching.

Will IDOT open the reversible lanes for the NASCAR Chicago Street Race and Democratic National Convention this summer?


“We’re definitely going to be looking at ways of completing the work as quickly as possible. But with the nature and scope of the work being completed, it’s not going to be something that we can open up for a weekend or a short period of time,” Schumacher said.

What should drivers do and not do?

IDOT advises motorists to consider using the CTA or Metra and tweaking their work schedules to travel at off-peak times, if possible.

And, please be careful, Schumacher said, noting drivers initially followed work zone speed limits in spring 2023, but good behavior declined over time.

“We see high speeds through work zones, unnecessary lane changes, and people not paying attention to the signs. Probably the biggest (hazard) is distracted driving” and using cellphones, he warned.

  Traffic flows near the junction of interstates 90 and 94 in Chicago on Thursday. Year 2 of a three-year, $150 million improvement project begins Monday. Joe Lewnard/

What’s next?

IDOT expects work to wrap between late November and mid-December, although mild weather this spring could result in an earlier finish.

The final stage is the outbound lanes in 2025.

Schumacher hopes drivers have noticed improvements on the inbound bridge decks that “used to look like the surface of the moon with all the potholes (that) have been completely redone. So it’s a much smoother ride. In the long run, you should see less maintenance on your car.”

One more thing

To help travelers or workers experiencing overdoses from opioids, the Chicago Department of Aviation now is stocking supplies of Narcan at O’Hare and Midway international airports. Narcan, a nasal spray used to counter overdoses from fentanyl and heroin, will be placed in cabinets where defibrillators already are located. If opened, an alarm will dispatch officers to assist.

“Serious health situations such as overdoses can happen anywhere in our city, including our airports,” Mayor Brandon Johnson said.

Gridlock alert

And speaking of construction, drivers in Des Plaines and Rosemont can expect lane closures this week on the Higgins Road (Route 72) bridge over Willow Creek, just east of Mannheim Road. Crews are installing a new deck overlay with work wrapping up in November.

  Illinois Department of Transportation spokeswoman Maria Castaneda introduces District One Bureau Chief of Construction John Schumacher at a briefing Thursday held on the Montrose Avenue eastbound entrance ramp at the junction of interstates 90 and 94 in Chicago. Joe Lewnard/
  The concrete surface of the eastbound lanes near the junction of interstates 90 and 94 in Chicago shows signs of deterioration Thursday. Joe Lewnard/
  The reversible lanes on the Kennedy Expressway will be rehabbed starting Monday. Joe Lewnard/
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