Long road ahead: Here's your 2023 construction guide for the city and suburbs

Break out the aspirin. Get Siri to play smooth jazz. Whatever it takes as two megaprojects coincide, triggering a blockbuster construction season that will try the patience of Chicago and suburban drivers alike.

On the Kennedy Expressway, a massive three-year rehabilitation has only just begun. On the Central Tri-State Tollway, an excruciatingly complex rebuild and widening continues.

Meanwhile, a slew of local projects will keep jackhammers busy, from road resurfacing in Aurora to intersection improvements in Mount Prospect.

"This year is anticipated to be the biggest year of our 15-year, $14 billion (Move Illinois) program," Illinois tollway Chief Engineering Officer Manar Nashif said.

The agency's wow-factor project is also the one with the least impact on traffic, because it's an entirely new road. I-490 will wrap around O'Hare International Airport's west side, connecting with I-90 to the north and I-294 to the south, and with Route 390 in the center, once it's extended east.

One focus this season is building the I-294/I-490 interchange near Franklin Park, Nashif said.

"It's a project of regional and national significance, and it is transformative," he said. "It will provide new access to communities that border the west side of O'Hare, provide for congestion relief, and it's just a major transportation improvement for that area."

Meanwhile, the Illinois Department of Transportation is in the throes of rehabilitating 36 Kennedy Expressway bridges between the Edens Expressway and Oak Street, along with repainting Hubbard's Cave and modernizing the reversible express lanes.

This year, crews are fixing the inbound lanes. Two will be closed at a time, with the reversible express lanes accommodating inbound drivers until late fall.

"We want people to be aware they'll not only see traffic impacts during their inbound commutes, but with the express lanes remaining for inbound only (during construction), drivers will also feel an impact on their outbound commutes because they no longer will have those two express lanes available," IDOT spokeswoman Maria Castaneda said.

A piece of good news: The Kennedy redo should be completed in 2025 as promised, unlike the interminable Jane Byrne Interchange reconstruction where deep digging turned up some nasty surprises like unstable soil.

"We were completely rebuilding from the ground up," Castaneda said. "With the Kennedy, we're taking off those top two to three layers of concrete and rebuilding the bridges, but we're not completely tearing down the structure, we're not going below the soil. We definitely have more of an idea what we're dealing with."

When it comes to complicated projects, the $4 billion Central Tri-State upgrade between Balmoral Avenue and 95th Street is the alpha dog.

"It's the heaviest-used corridor on the tollway system," Nashif said. "This section carries as many as 300,000 vehicles a day, so it is a huge undertaking."

"The far south and far northern segments are where we've made the most progress, and lanes are starting to open up," he said.

One tangled knot is the junction of I-88, I-290 and the Tri-State, which is continually backed up. To solve that, engineers designed longer ramps with greater capacity and that are straighter than the tight loops of the originals. "It should really untangle what's there when it's all done" by the tentative date of 2026, Nashif said.

To the west in Kane County, the long-awaited Longmeadow Parkway project is a year away from completion. As county leaders hunt down funding to avoid imposing a toll, workers in 2023 will be removing soil contaminated with lead from a short section east of the Fox River that will be paved next year.

"We are currently targeting opening the last roadway segment to traffic from Route 31 to the Bolz Road Connector Road and the new bridge over the Fox River in late 2024," Assistant Director of Transportation Steve Coffinbargar said.

Drivers should be patient, allow time for travel, consider public transit and follow construction zone speeds. "Please use caution and avoid distracted driving that puts motorists and workers at risk," Nashif said.

Construction hot spots in your neighborhood

  Looking south toward I-290 with freshly poured concrete on the right, work continues on the I-88/I-290 interchange at I-294 Thursday near Elmhurst. Brian Hill/
  This is one of the new ramps being built as work continues Thursday on improvements to the I-88/I-290 interchange at I-294. Brian Hill/
  Work continues Thursday on improvements to the I-88/I-290 interchange at I-294. Brian Hill/
  This is one of the new ramps being built at the I-88/I-290 interchange at I-294. Brian Hill/
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