Byrne Interchange mega-project finally ready to debut with '50% reduction in delays'

Illinois Department of Transportation engineers are promising a 50% improvement in traffic delays as the interminable Jane Byrne Interchange rebuild wraps up.

The reconstruction ballooned from a $535 million estimate in 2013 to $806.4 million and lasted four years longer than the original 2018 completion date.

"It's a huge project, probably our biggest here at IDOT," spokeswoman Maria Castaneda said Tuesday at a media preview.

"This interchange serves over 400,000 motorists every day" and is close to communities, churches, schools, the University of Illinois at Chicago and homes, she said.

A ribbon-cutting for the JBI, which connects the Eisenhower, Kennedy and Dan Ryan expressways, is set for Wednesday morning.

However, four final ramps may not open until next week, District 1 Bureau Chief of Construction Jon Schumacher explained.

"We're trying to get it done as soon as possible. There's an outside chance that some of them will reopen Friday morning, but really, we're playing a weather game this time of year," Schumacher noted.

The late-breaking improvements include two northbound Kennedy entrance ramps from Adams and Jackson streets. Also coming are wider ramps from the eastbound I-290 onto the Kennedy and Dan Ryan expressways with two lanes, instead of one.

For Chicago-area drivers beyond weary of the project, it's good news. But why did it take so long and cost so much?

IDOT officials acknowledged the agency set a "pretty ambitious" timetable in their desire to get the work done expeditiously.

"Back in 2013, our top priority at that time was to get the interchange done as soon as possible," Engineer of Program Development John Baczek said.

But those initial plans assumed a rigorous construction schedule that would have been punishing for drivers, residents and other stakeholders, he noted. As a result, IDOT adopted a more staggered construction schedule.

Reality also hit with complications that included unstable soil, abandoned water tunnels that turned out to be active, lengthy utility relocations and the COVID-19 pandemic.

"There were construction surprises," Baczek said. From preliminary test holes, "we knew the soils out there were bad." But after testing, "the extent and magnitude of the bad soil there was more dramatic than we thought."

Asked to quantify how the revamped interchange would improve travel times, Baczek said, "we are anticipating a 50% reduction in delays for all vehicles with the new configuration, so that's significant right off the bat."

It's estimated the redo could save more than $180 million annually in lost productivity from workers in traffic jams and result in a one-third reduction in greenhouse gases.

Planners noted that landscaping and painting are yet to be done on the project.

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The reconfigured Jane Byrne Interchange will be completed in the coming days, IDOT officials said. Daily Herald File Photo
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