Motorists used to taking the Western Avenue overpass should prepare for headaches — or find a new route.
That bridge over Belmont Avenue in Roscoe Village is coming down. The work is scheduled to start March 1, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.
Mike Claffey, CDOT spokesman, said the demolition is inconvenient but unavoidable. The overpass, which opened in 1961, is severely deteriorated and outdated.
But it won’t be replaced with another overpass. Current design requirements would mean a new overpass would take up a lot more space, and that would mean buying up private land. Instead, CDOT will build a five-way intersection as part of the $25.6 million Western Avenue Corridor Improvement Project, which focuses on the 1.25-mile stretch of Western Avenue from Jones Street to Waveland Avenue.
“We looked at two options in the design process: replace the viaduct with a new one, or eliminate the viaduct and have a modern intersection,” Claffey said. CDOT hopes a new intersection will “restore the fabric of the community” and make the area more inviting to pedestrians and potential retailers.
For a while, though, it will become decidedly less inviting, with traffic on Western restricted to one lane in each direction for the first six months of the project. On some days, the road will be closed. Belmont also will be closed on some days, though exact dates have not been announced.
Mary Markarian, executive director of the Roscoe Village Chamber of Commerce, said the timing is never good for big projects like this one, but she’s confident it will open up the neighborhood. The project will add lamp posts, landscaping and expanded sidewalks, in addition to ADA ramps and a third traffic lane during rush hours.
Markarian and other residents are confused about why the city didn’t maintain the bridge in the first place, noting that she doesn’t remember any upkeep or maintenance by the city. Markarian and other residents are urging people to support the community’s local businesses during the 18-month construction period.
Weather permitting, construction is to begin on March 1. Claffey said there will be a few days of full-lane closures within the first 70 days of the project, although those dates have yet to be announced. There will be full closure of Belmont Avenue in both directions for a six-day period, and Western Avenue for a three-day period. Aside from these full closures, there will be intermittent daytime closures through the end of the month. Claffey said work will take place during the week from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Although many residents are worried about the potential increase of traffic on nearby residential streets during the project, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) is working with CDOT to minimize that, said Paul Sajovec, Waguespack’s chief of staff. Residents were initially nervous about taking down the bridge, but most support and understand why the project is needed, Sajovec said.
Some wonder why it was built in the first place. Sajovec said that according to legend, the overpass was the idea of Mayor Richard J. Daley, sparked by his being stuck in traffic on Western Avenue — traffic likely caused by the nearby Riverview amusement park, which closed in 1967. The overpass opened on November 22, 1961.
Josh Cooley, owner of Belmont Barbershop, 2328 W. Belmont Ave., is concerned about how the construction will affect his business, which he opened 10 years ago.
“In a perfect world, I’d love to see them rebuild it,” said Cooley, but he understands that this would require the city to buy up adjacent homes and businesses. Instead, he added, they’ll have to “brace ourselves” and “ride it out.”
Sajovec said that the project will require that kind of patience.
“We understand that it’s going to be a rough spring and summer because it is a large infrastructure undertaking, but our hope is that it will proceed according to schedule and it will result in a much better structure,” he said.