Graffiti on a key inbound Kennedy Expressway sign was addressed in the quickest way possible by removing it during the morning rush about two hours after being notified of its existence, state transportation officials said Friday amid a flurry of commuter complaints.
The closure of two lanes — and briefly three lanes — of traffic to remove the graffiti between 6 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. Friday caused a traffic nightmare on the Kennedy.
The morning rush on one of Chicago’s busiest expressways was reduced to a crawl, with WBBM-AM Radio at one point reporting a nearly two-hour trip from O’Hare International Airport to downtown. Illinois Department of Transportation officials gave a time of 138 minutes for the journey — instead of the normal 60 minutes.
IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said the graffiti that stretched over three lanes of traffic was reported to IDOT at 4 a.m. Friday.
Afterward, Tridgell said, “We assessed the situation and had a crew responding to remove [it] at about 6 a.m.”
IDOT’s district operations and maintenance staff decided to remove the graffiti immediately, given that it was “obscuring an important sign in an area that people rely on as they are approaching downtown,” Tridgell said.
The graffiti was in a critical spot at the Odgen Avenue overpass where traffic begins to “split in many directions,” he said.
The removal was done with the support of Acting IDOT Secretary Erica Borggen, Tridgell said.
Asked why a temporary sign could not have been used until the morning rush ended, Tridgell said: “We took the quickest course of action, which was to remove the graffiti as quickly as possible. It was obscuring an important sign on the interstate system that people rely on.”
“We do understand this caused an inconvenience and apologize for that. This was a situation we did not create but for safety reasons, we had to address it as quickly as possible.”
One former traffic expert said the graffiti obscured only the word “Indiana” and the arrow under it.
The expert said IDOT could have placed a tarp over only the graffiti and used a variable sign farther down the Kennedy to provide motorists with the obscured information, which was that drivers headed to Indiana needed to stay to the left. Then, the entire sign could have been replaced during a non-rush period, he said.
Instead, the expert said, IDOT picked an alternative that shut down at least two lanes of Kennedy traffic during the morning rush hour and aggravated hundreds of drivers.
Illinois State Police spokeswoman Monique Bond said authorities suspect the graffiti constituted “tagging” rather than gang-related activity, but the State Police criminal intelligence unit is looking into the situation.
State Police suspect the graffiti said “CMOS” or “CILOS” but aren’t sure, Bond said.
Anyone with information about the graffiti is asked to call the State Police at (847) 294-4400.
Bond warned that such defacement of public property constitutes a Class 4 felony that can result in “a very hefty fine and jail time.”
Commuters Friday not only tweeted frustration about jammed Kennedy traffic but amazement at the tagging feat.
“What graffiti is so offensive that it warrants closing . . . three lanes of the inbound Kennedy during the Friday rush to remove?” tweeted one commuter.
“Who the he11 got up there and did that???” tweeted another.
Bond speculated that the tagger accessed the IDOT sign via the Ogden overpass and used the brackets that hold up the sign as footings from which to tag the sign while perched over the Kennedy.