All lanes of traffic are open today on Congress Parkway, marking the near completion of an $18 million streetscape beautification project that has created a pretty ugly traffic mess downtown since 2010.
The state-funded work, between Wells Street and Michigan Avenue, is aimed at improving traffic flow for the 63,000 drivers on Congress each day, even though the project reduced the number of lanes in both directions in order to offer safer conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.
Enhancements include wider sidewalks, better bike lanes that require less weaving and bicycle parking.
Construction began in October 2010. To the ire of many drivers, the project has coincided with the ongoing rehabilitation by the state of the Congress Parkway bridge over the Chicago River and the city's overhaul of Wacker Drive between Randolph Street and Congress.
It has at times created gridlock for drivers traversing between the Eisenhower, Kennedy and Dan Ryan expressways and downtown. Transportation officials defended their decision to conduct the projects simultaneously, conceding it has been strong medicine but preferable to dragging out the construction over a longer period.
However, setbacks with the Congress Parkway bridge project have created more pain for drivers than originally planned.
The Congress streetscape project is expected to conclude by June 30, or about a month later than the original schedule, said CDOT spokesman Pete Scales.
Temporary off-peak lane closures will occur on Congress later this month to complete median planters and trellises and finish installing crosswalk pavers on the streets intersecting Congress between the bridge and Michigan Avenue, Scales said.
Work also continues to reconfigure the Wacker/Congress interchange, which is scheduled to open at the end of the year, officials said. The eastbound Congress exit ramp at Franklin Street will be below ground. The Lower Wacker Drive entrance ramp onto westbound Congress will also be underground, officials said.
The $300 million reconstruction of Upper and Lower Wacker is also targeted for completion by the end of the year, under CDOT's plans. Highlights of the project include replacing the deteriorated viaduct structure built in the 1950s and eliminating ramps to Lower Wacker at Jackson, Adams and Washington, while converting the Monroe ramp to one-way to Lower Wacker.
Crews are currently working on the Monroe Street and Adams Street intersections, after having completed the Madison Street intersection this year. The Jackson Boulevard and Van Buren Street intersections will be rebuilt during the second half of 2012, CDOT officials said.
Meanwhile, the $33 million Congress Parkway bridge rehabilitation is scheduled for completetion and the four inbound and four outbound lanes open to traffic by late May, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. The bridge project started in April 2010 and was originally scheduled for completion last October, IDOT said. Problems with the bridge decking replacement led to extensive delays.
The Kennedy Expressway ramp to Congress finally opened this week. Still closed are the Dan Ryan Expressway ramp to Congress and the bridge’s far right inbound lane.