COVID-19 or no, road work will happen, Illinois officials say
The show must go on when it comes to road construction, state officials are vowing, despite the growing toll of COVID-19 cases in Illinois and the U.S.
On paper, that means cue the jackhammers on the Tri-State Tollway, the Jane Byrne Interchange and local routes from Golf Road to Ogden Avenue.
"We have several construction projects ongoing or anticipated, with no plans to stop or suspend," Illinois Department of Transportation spokeswoman Maria Castaneda said. "We will strive to keep this construction season on schedule."
But it's a construction season like none other, concede agencies.
For example, "any vendors or contractors unable to continue to provide services due to the impacts of the pandemic are not required to do so at this time," Illinois tollway spokesman Dan Rozek said.
Highway construction is deemed an essential activity by the federal government and also under a March 20 stay-at-home order by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
"Safety is foremost in our minds during this difficult time, and we are working with contractors to ensure the proper safety precautions are being taken to protect workers," Rozek said.
With restaurants, bars and shops across the state shuttered, many hopes are pinned on keeping the economic engine of the construction industry burning.
"Hopefully, it's a silver lining in the economy," Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association President Michael Sturino said.
IDOT will spend about $173 million on the Jane Byrne interchange alone in 2020. The Illinois tollway awarded $270 million in construction and engineering jobs Thursday and promised more in April.
Construction industry leaders are betting on keeping coronavirus at bay with natural social distancing that occurs on outdoor job sites plus educating workers.
Precautions could include checking in with workers about COVID-19 exposure when they arrive on a job site along with the now-familiar admonitions to keep a 6-foot social distance and sneezing into your elbow.
How do workers feel about covering sneezes with their elbows as they labor in all kinds of weather?
"As a union we are taking a proactive approach to make sure our members and their families are protected to the highest degree possible," said Deirdre Darnall, communications director for the Chicago Laborers District Council.
"So far, we've seen a lot of creative and proactive measures taken across the construction industry, and we're appreciative of the steps that so many have taken to ensure that these essential workers are being taken care of so they can go home safely to their families at the end of the day," International Union of Operating Engineers spokesman Ed Maher said.
"Their work is difficult right now, but construction is never easy."
• Drivers heading north on the Tri-State Tollway (I-294) near Hinsdale will be one lane down as workers rebuild the BNSF Railway bridge. The lane closures lasts through April.
• McHenry County is fixing beams on the Johnson Road bridge over Nippersink Creek in Hebron Township, which means delays with just one lane open.
You should know
Was it last week's column? The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced last week it will extend the Real ID deadline by one year to Oct. 1, 2021.
Given that all Illinois secretary of state driver services facilities are closed to prevent COVID-19 spread, what's the procedure if "someone's driver's license is expiring," Elgin reader Frank Imhoff asks. "Could that deadline be delayed?"
Why, yes. Expiration dates for driver's licenses, identification cards, vehicle registrations and other transactions and document filings will be extended 30 days after driver services facilities reopen," the secretary of state's office says.
One good thing
As demand for fuel shrinks while people wait out the COVID-19 epidemic, oil producers are dropping prices to tempt us to gas up. In the metro area, gas was $2.20 for a gallon of regular on average and less at many stations Friday. Compare that to $3 a year ago.
One more thing
Metra and Pace are now offering free rides to medical workers with IDs. Meanwhile, all Pace offices, including the headquarters in Arlington Heights, are closed to the public. Pace, Metra and the CTA are urging passengers to use the Ventra app to buy tickets and passes. The app can be downloaded from the Apple App Store or Google Play.