Drivers heading to one of many June weekend festivals and events in and around downtown Chicago may want to avoid the Kennedy Expressway.
Beginning June 13, crews will begin a massive undertaking that will send drivers on alternate routes — squeezing the usual five lanes of traffic into just two — over three key weekends as crews demolish and replace the 55-year-old Ohio Street Bridge, north of the Loop.
The construction coincides with some popular annual weekend Chicago events such as Gospel Music Fest, Blues Fest and the Taste of Randolph Street festival.
“We’re going to be recommending alternatives. I mean, use I-290, I-55. We’re also telling people to use I-294 and I-355, depending on where you’re coming from. If you’re just looking to go from Indiana to Wisconsin, [take] I-80 to I-39,” Tony Quigley, IDOT project implementation engineer said.
The goal is to do the work on the weekend, rather than during the busy workweek. For that reason, bridge and related work on those three weekends will begin at 10 p.m. each Friday and wrap up by 5 a.m. the following Monday — in time for the morning rush.
Following is a guide for motorists trying to navigate around the Loop during bridge work:
◆ Those driving from the northern suburbs into the city will be affected the first weekend of construction, starting June 13 and ending June 16, with the inbound Kennedy reduced to two lanes for a mile beginning at Diversey. Once at Ohio Street, all expressway drivers heading inbound will be diverted to the two-lane Ohio Street ramp, then will loop around at Ontario and head back onto the Expressway. Also, one lane heading outbound will also be closed during the first weekend of construction, since part of the bridge that is being removed is just above it.
◆ On June 20-23, drivers heading from the South Side into the city will be hit hardest by the construction project. Crews will work on the outbound side — diverting traffic at Congress into just two lanes and bringing them up the Ohio street exit ramp, down to Orleans and looping them around and back onto the expressway. There will be no inbound lanes affected by that second weekend.
◆ And the final weekend of construction, June 27-30 will just affect drivers heading into the Loop who typically take the Ohio Street exit. All lanes of the Kennedy Expressway will remain open, but crews will close the Ohio ramp from the inbound Kennedy They’ll also close the ramp from westbound Ontario to the inbound Kennedy, Quigley said.
IDOT officials say that will impact about on average 260,000 drivers.
The $16.5 million undertaking, funded by Governor Quinn’s Illinois Jobs Now! program has been seven years in the works.
Sarah Wilson, IDOT bridge maintenance engineer said she had been monitoring the Ohio Street Bridge for some time: “It was deteriorating. It had been limited to the legal load, not allowing high permit loads. It was on our watch list and it was starting to really deteriorate. We evaluated different options and we chose the complete replacement.”
Wilson and other project managers have reached out to nearby Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan’s departments of transportation to warn of the construction, and also to Midwest trucking associations.
“We really want to be able to say I told you so when drivers complain to us after. Seriously,” Wilson joked. “We’re being very honest and way ahead of time telling people that there will be issues.”
IDOT officials have worked with the city, the CTA and Metra in coordinating the dates and are trying not to scare off Chicagoans and tourists too much.
“We are stressing the city is still open. There are a lot of events and festivals. If you don’t need to come through this area, don’t come through here. Or come early. Find an alternate,“ Quigley said. “If you are coming through this area, consider mass transit.”