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City to replace 43rd Street bridge with more accessible design

The Chicago Department of Transportation has begun deconstruction of the outdated 43rd Street bridge in a two year project that will replace it with a more accessible option.

The 43rd Street pedestrian bridge that runs over Lake Shore Drive is in the process of being demolished by the Chicago Department Of Transportation, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. The demolition is taking place in order to build a new and more accessible one.
The 43rd Street pedestrian bridge that runs over Lake Shore Drive is in the process of being demolished by the Chicago Department Of Transportation, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. The demolition is taking place in order to build a new and more accessible one.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Construction of a wheelchair- and bicycle-accessible bridge over Lake Shore Drive is underway in North Kenwood.

The bridge, which would replace the current 43rd Street bridge leading into Burnham Park, was announced on Nov. 27, 2020. Since then, the Chicago Department of Transportation has begun preparing the old bridge for demolition. The entire process is expected to be completed by the end of 2022.

The project began to help community members have better access to Burnham Park. The old bridge, which is only accessible by stairs, failed to meet standards set by the American Disabilities Act for accessible design.

“There was a need to create accessible access to the lakefront for people who live in that community,” said Michael Claffey, CDOT director of public affairs. “They can see the lake from their homes, but they have trouble reaching it because of the lack of ADA-accessible accommodations.”

In a Tuesday Zoom conference, Ald. Sophia King (4th), CDOT and the North Kenwood Oakland Advisory Council updated community members on the details of the project and answered questions related to the ongoing construction.

Several community members voiced some concerns about the project regarding parking, increased traffic and access to the park during construction. According to Luis Benitez, chief bridge engineer for CDOT, the city will be performing a traffic study in the area to address some of these issues.

King encouraged residents in her ward to join with several community advisory councils involved with the project. “We are encouraging communities to get involved so that they can lead as opposed to reacting to concerns,” King said.

The whole project will cost $31.5 million, according to a Nov. 27, 2020, news release by CDOT. The cost is currently met by federal and state funds, according to Claffey.

Community members hoping to access Burnham Park or the lakefront while construction is underway have been told by CDOT to use the bridges at 41st and 47th streets during the two-year construction period.

According to Benitez, the process will take that long because of the high volume of train and vehicle traffic that will pass the construction zone.

The next steps contractors have in preparing to deconstruct the old bridge include relocating power lines and water mains and removing street from the construction zone, but CDOT was unsure of dates for these actions because of cold weather and snow.

The bridge is the fourth of five to be built by CDOT to improve access to the lakefront in South Side neighborhoods. The other pedestrian accessible bridges opened at 35th Street in 2016 and 41st Street in 2018 and a vehicular bridge opened in 2019 at Oakwood Boulevard and 39th Street. The fifth bridge, which is expected to begin construction in late 2021, will reconstruct a vehicular bridge at 31st Street.

The new bridge was designed by AECOM, a national engineering firm, and Cordogan, Clark & Associates, a local architectural firm.

According to Claffey, CDOT will also be building a new playground for the Parks District to replace one in Burnham Park as a part of the project.

King and CDOT plan to have regular meetings throughout the construction of the bridge to continue hearing from the community.