With demolition of the Ontario Street bridge over the Kennedy Expressway going faster than expected Saturday, highway officials said the massive road project will take just two weekends to finish, rather than the three that were planned.
The expressway was near-empty near the Loop Saturday, as a feared “Carmaggedon” appeared to have been averted.
Drivers were warned for weeks that the work would cause massive traffic backups. So they largely steered clear.
“The removal of the Ontario Street bridge is proceeding so smoothly that we, in coordination with the city of Chicago, are taking advantage of the opportunity to condense this project into just two weekends,” Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Ann L. Schneider said.
Traffic volume on the inbound Kennedy was about a third less than on a typical June weekend.
This weekend’s work affects Kennedy drivers heading into the city from the north.
Crews began demolition of the Ontario Street bridge at 10 p.m. Friday. The work was supposed to close all inbound Kennedy lanes, including the express lanes, till 5 a.m. Monday. But the inbound lanes will now reopen by noon Sunday, according to IDOT.
Inbound drivers who took their chances on the Kennedy were creeping along slowly, at 5 to 25 miles an hour approaching Diversey, where two lanes were closed for a mile.
That prompted many to head for the exit ramps.
The brave, or perhaps foolish, few who stuck it out were diverted onto a temporary two-lane ramp at Ohio Street and looped around at Ontario. But a wide-open highway greeted drivers just past the construction zone.
The new, accelerated work schedule means traffic will shift back onto the main expressway lanes starting at 10 p.m. Saturday, as the Ohio Street exit ramp is closed. The exit will remain closed until 5 a.m. Monday, according to IDOT.
“Because I drive on the highway all the time, I saw the signs,” said cab driver Moorak Bakal, 38, as he stopped for a fill-up at a Greektown gas station. “I just have to find a different way there.”
Still, Bakal said he’ll avoid his usual Saturday night routine of heading to O’Hare Airport to find passengers. He planned to take Ogden or Milwaukee Avenue instead.
Next weekend’s construction will close lanes on the outbound Kennedy, weather permitting.
The Chicago Blues Festival, the Spring Awakening Music Festival at Soldier Field and the Taste of Randolph Festival were all drawing crowds this weekend.
Karen Ellsworth, a Michigan resident in town visiting family, said her daughter warned her about the construction. But she had no problems on I-90/94 heading into downtown.
“It was great,” Ellsworth said. “She said everybody’s avoiding it, so no one’s on it.”
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