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Kennedy construction is back and traffic is snarling


Chicago’s mild spring brought a possibly unwelcome development for commuters on the Kennedy Expressway Tuesday morning; lane closures began and the second phase of I-90 rehabilitation began earlier than usual.

The reversible express lanes running down the middle of the highway closed around 9 p.m. Monday and will remain inaccessible to drivers until the fall. That meant two fewer lanes for commuters heading into the city center during the morning rush on Tuesday.

And more lanes will be closed this week. The left lanes in both directions will close near downtown for work on the major underpass near Hubbard Street, and the ramp from westbound Randolph Street or northbound to Kennedy will also be closed.

Maria Castaneda, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Transportation, said the lanes will likely remain closed until late fall, even though the work started earlier than expected. She declined to give a specific reopening date, saying it could change sooner or later, partly depending on the weather. During the project’s first year, lanes began closing in late March and began reopening in early December.

The work also includes closing the incoming or southbound left lane of the Kennedy and Edens highways near the intersection where the two meet. second phase of the highway’s $150 million rehabilitation.

The project stretches 4.5 miles along the 10-lane highway from I-94 south to downtown. This includes work on 36 bridges and the reversible express lane access system, replacement of overhead signs, improved lighting, pavements and painting. This also includes painting the Hubbard underpass near Ohio and Lake streets and installing new lighting.

The three-year project began in the inbound or southbound lanes in 2023; Two lanes were closed at the same time, leaving express lanes open only towards the city centre. The work, planned for the final phase next year, will take place in the outbound or northbound lanes, with express lanes remaining open northbound from downtown.

This year’s work focuses on reversible express lanes, where the current access system was installed in 1996. In addition to months of lane closures, lanes and ramps will be temporarily closed overnight this week during installation for the remainder of the construction season. IDOT said shoulders and lanes may be closed overnight near the Hubbard underpass between Milwaukee Avenue and Randolph Street throughout the year.

But in a bit of good news for drivers, little will change following the closure of the main lanes until the lanes reopen in the autumn. This will differ from last year, when lane and ramp closures varied throughout the year as crews worked on various sections of entry lanes.

Heavy traffic flows on the Kennedy Expressway between Fullerton and North avenues as the reverse lanes close on March 12, 2024. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune)

Still, traffic was backed up more than usual Tuesday morning, Castaneda said. IDOT is also warning drivers to prepare for longer travel times.

This likely includes the summer months, when the city is preparing for big events like the Democratic National Convention and the return of the NASCAR Chicago Street Race. Castaneda said IDOT often tries to accommodate special events and busy travel dates, but due to the nature of the rehabilitation, it cannot reopen lanes on Kennedy until it is safe to drive.

Castaneda encouraged commuters to find alternative routes, carpool or use public transportation. The CTA Blue Line runs through the middle of the freeway for part of its route to downtown, and Metra’s Union Pacific Northwest Line runs along the freeway.

Typically, it takes drivers about a week or so to adjust their schedules around construction, leave home early or late, change the days they work remotely or find alternative transportation, he said.

Indeed, Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said Tuesday that it was too early to tell whether the construction would increase ridership on commuter rail service. Last year, Metra said it added weekday train service to the Union Pacific Northwest Line, partly due to construction, and that schedule remains in effect.


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