Chinatown roadway to connect neighborhood and downtown


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Roadway Construction began Sept. 30 near 1700 S. Wentworth Ave. and extends to Wentworth Avenue near Chinatown to ease congestion for South Side commuters traveling into the Loop. 

By Taylor Morris Metro Reporter

More than a century after Chicago architect Daniel Burnham proposed the idea of making a roadway connecting Chinatown to downtown, the city will  finally make it a reality with a new multi-year project. 

The preliminary steps in the Wells-Wentworth project, creating a new road linking the Loop and Chinatown began the week of Sept. 30, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.

The $62 million project is intended to improve commuter safety for both drivers and bicyclists, a Sept. 30 City of Chicago press release stated.

Susan Hofer, a CDOT spokeswoman, explained the Wells-Wentworth Connector project will be done in three phases. 

The first phase will create a new entrance to Ping Tom Memorial Park at 1700 S. Wentworth Ave., providing safety for pedestrians and bicycle riders by adding a new sidewalk and bike lanes, she said.

Phase two is meant to straighten out the intersection and realign Wentworth Avenue between Archer and Cermak, Hofer said.

“Right now, there’s an offset intersection, which is really confusing and dangerous,” Hofer explained, in an interview.

The initial phase is expected to be completed in June 2017, and the second phase isn’t expected to begin until 2018, according to a Sept. 30 press release.

Phase one of the project does not require land acquisition; however, phase two of the project will require some land investments, Hofer said. 

The link is eagerly anticipated by Chinatown residents, according to C.W. Chan, chairman of the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, who noted “this project has been talked about for decades.”

The Chinatown-to-Downtown project has been put off because of a lack of finances and unpreparedness, according to Hofer.

“Up until recently, there was not the commitment—either financial or time wise—to come up with the best plan,” Hofer said. “But, this is something Mayor Emanuel has wanted to do since he was elected.” 

The street will extend from South Wells Street between West Roosevelt Road and West 16th Street and South Wentworth Avenue between West 16th Street  and West Cermak Road,  the City of Chicago release stated. 

A new traffic signal will be installed at 18th Street and Wentworth Avenue to reduce congestion and improve bicycle safety. According to the press release, a temporary cul-de-sac will be created at Wentworth Avenue just north of Ping Tom Memorial Park, which will be removed when the new road is extended north to Roosevelt during the third phase of construction, which is also set to start in 2018.

“There’s a lot of work that takes place even before consultants like architects or engineers would get involved in a project,” said Thomas Hoepf, vice president and principal design architect at Chicago exp US Services Inc., a leading Chicago consulting firm. “These kind of things are typically many years in the making.” Hoepf added.

During phase two, a new plaza will be built on the east side of Wentworth Avenue at 19th Street to emphasize the entrances of Ping Tom Memorial Park,  according to the press release.

“Chinatown square and the original commercial area of Chinatown will be more connected than ever before,” Chan said.