Traffic snarled all day around fatal I-90 construction accident

  • Traffic on eastbound I-90 backed up from Touhy Avenue to past Arlington Heights Road as a result of Tuesday morning's fatal construction accident involving a fallen steel bridge girder.

    Traffic on eastbound I-90 backed up from Touhy Avenue to past Arlington Heights Road as a result of Tuesday morning's fatal construction accident involving a fallen steel bridge girder. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 4/5/2016 11:15 PM

Rush hour never ended Tuesday for drivers on the eastbound Jane Addams.

An early morning construction accident that killed one worker and injured three others caused a massive daylong backup largely unseen in these days of smartphone alerts and constant radio station traffic updates.

 

"This was the true carmageddon," said Steve Schlickman, former chief of the Regional Transportation Authority and former head of the University of Illinois at Chicago's Urban Transportation Center. "Remember when they were replacing the (Ontario Street) bridge downtown a few years ago and it was supposed to make traffic impassable for several days? That wasn't that bad because we all knew it was happening. This is what happens when something catastrophic occurs."

Tuesday's accident happened around 3 a.m. Workers were trying to remove an enormous beam from an older section of a bridge when it collapsed onto Touhy Avenue. After being closed most of the day, Touhy Avenue between Wolf Road and Lee Street reopened just before 11 p.m. Tuesday.

Tollway workers and Illinois State Police also closed two lanes of eastbound I-90 for most of the day, and one lane of westbound I-90 was closed intermittently. All lanes were also reopened late Tuesday night.

Mike Pries, a traffic reporter at WBBM Newsradio 780-AM and 105.9-FM, said the effects on traffic were amplified because of the location. Drivers who didn't exit eastbound I-90 at Arlington Heights Road were trapped in the snarl that stretched close to six miles before they were able to exit again.

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Smartphone traffic apps were reporting that it would take more than an hour to drive east on I-90 to the accident site from Arlington Heights Road.

Local roads also were jammed, especially in Des Plaines, as drivers sought ways around the accident site. Oakton Street was especially crowded, police said.

Temporary message boards had been put up at Touhy Avenue and Mannheim Road, cautioning drivers to avoid going west on Touhy.

"It's certainly pretty severe because it happened in such a bad, busy spot," Pries said. "It's an extremely busy location, and we're seeing the effects in all directions."

Heather Ritter was trying to drive to her Elk Grove Village home through Des Plaines but found herself crawling with "cars everywhere" at 6:30 p.m.

"It's like there was a fireworks show and it's just letting out, and nobody knew about it," Ritter said.

Though the accident certainly impeded some air travelers' ability to get to O'Hare International Airport quickly, officials from several major airlines did not report any uptick in missed flights or rescheduling. Airport officials said travelers should give themselves extra time to get to the airport until the accident site is cleared up.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Schlickman said it was surprising people were still using I-90 eastbound even with the backup.

"You wonder why they aren't taking alternate routes," Schlickman said.

Pries suggested some drivers risked the trip because it was still the quickest route.

"When you look at where the backup starts and where it ends, for some people it's still the best route because this has everything around it choked off," Pries said.

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