Wacker Drive reconstruction part two

By Kristen Franzen

Phase two of a two-year plan to re-envision Chicago’s traffic infrastructure is in motion on Wacker Drive, which provides downtown access to 60,000 vehicles daily.

Wacker Drive is a major two-level overpass, bordering the north and west sides of Chicago’s business district. The 55-year-old infrastructure has outlived its predictable useful service life.

The estimated $200 million reconstruction project—which entails reconstruction from Randolph Street to Van Buren Street and the interchange of Congress Parkway at Van Buren Street—will take approximately two years to complete.

Brian Steele, director of communications at the Chicago Department of Transportation, said for a project this size a learning curve takes place with our community during the first few weeks.

“Any project of this size occurring in the heart of the central business district will impact—and is impacting—motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users,” Steele said.

All through 2010, CDOT met with building owners and managers along Wacker Drive to determine how their tenants, customers and loading docks will be maintained throughout construction.

“We have done a lot of coordination with large entities, like the Lyric Opera of Chicago, which is right on Wacker Drive between Washington Street and Madison Street,” Steele said. “We have prepared fliers for them, written information for their website and letters to their customers letting them know this project is going on and they will see some changes at the Lyric Opera.”

Steele also mentioned how traffic delays were going to be handled.

“The delay in traffic is particularly great during the morning and afternoon rush hour,” he said. “We changed some signal timings, we moved some parking around and we established lane configuration to help traffic flow more smoothly.”

According to Steele, public transportation will have disruptions with a minute or two added to a commute.

“There are 13 bus routes that have changes to them,” he said. “However, most of them are fairly small changes. Instead of going down Washington Street, the route will go a block north to Randolph Street and a block south to Madison Street.”

T.J. Brookover, head of the Wacker Drive Property Owners Association, said the city and project management team working on the city’s behalf has done a good job in communicating with the property owners and building managers along Wacker Drive.

According to the bridge engineering analysis website run by LUSAS Bridge, the lower level of Wacker Drive provides access for service vehicles to more than 50 high-rise buildings. The upper level intersects with 20 streets and connects with drawbridges that cross the Chicago River.

Dan Burke, chief bridge engineer for CDOT, said aside from architectural changes and beautifying the Wacker Drive experience, the second and third stages of the reconstruction project have numerous safety enhancements for residents.

“It will provide a much safer environment,” Burke said. “Signal timings have been adjusted to accommodate the new pedestrian standards.”

Lake and Madison streets are under construction that will continue into summer 2011. According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Congress Parkway interchange and bridge will continue reconstruction until summer 2012.

“It’s a continuation of Mayor [Richard M.] Daley’s vision for the future and for renewing our infrastructure and having it in place to address our future needs,” Burke said.