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Navy Pier Flyover finally opens, 7 years after construction began — and bikers, pedestrians rejoice

Mayor Lori Lightfoot cut the ribbon on the long-delayed path for runners, cyclists and pedestrians on Monday morning.

A bicyclist rides on the Navy Pier Flyover on Monday morning, May 10, 2020. The newly-completed part of the path that tracks the Lake Shore Drive Bridge over the mouth of the Chicago River opened Monday.
A bicyclist rides on the Navy Pier Flyover Monday morning. The newly-completed part of the path tracks the Lake Shore Drive Bridge over the mouth of the Chicago River.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

With the clouds parting on cue and the lake glistening in the distance, city leaders officially opened the last stretch of the much-delayed Navy Pier Flyover project on Monday.

“It’s taken a while,” Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi said of the project that began in 2014. “But we did it as funding became available and we never gave up. We kept pushing forward.”

The flyover is the final section of the $64 million project, which stretches 18 miles from South 71st to Hollywood.

Planning for the Flyover began when Richard M. Daley was mayor. Construction began in 2014 under Rahm Emanuel’s administration and was initially slated to wrap in 2018. Tunnels through two 84-year-old bridge houses were opened Monday, the last remaining piece of the project.

A cyclist rides past a tunnel (right side of photo) through the historic bridge houses, which were opened up in an effort to widen the path over the Chicago River.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

“The completion of this project will make our lakefront shine that much more brightly,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “I know this from having had to make the tough decision to have to shut down the lakefront last year in the pandemic. I heard from people all over the city about how much they treasure this precious asset.”

Pedestrians and cyclists alike praised the widened, open-air feeling of the new path that tracks the bridge over the mouth of the Chicago River.

A bicyclist rides on the Navy Pier Flyover on the newly-completed part of the path that tracks the Lake Shore Drive Bridge over the mouth of the Chicago River, Monday morning, May 10, 2020.
Pedestrians and cyclists are praising the newly-opened part of the Navy Pier Flyover. The last leg in the lakefront trail was officially opened on Monday, a few years behind schedule.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Tom Ross, 68, of Streeterville was on the bridge with his wife, Carla Ross.

“Whatever time of year it was, it was dark and gloomy and falling apart a little bit” before, Tom Ross said. “It wasn’t open like this. This is going to be gorgeous this summer to look at the lake.”

For years, cyclists and pedestrians have crossed the river on a narrow stretch of sidewalk next to busy lanes of traffic on the lower deck of the two-tiered Lake Shore Drive Bridge.

“It would be a big bottleneck down around here,” said Brett Young, 66, a cyclist who lives in River North. “Baby carriages, pedestrians, hot-rod bikers. There wasn’t a light. It was really dark.”

A bicyclist rides on the Navy Pier Flyover near the newly-completed part of the path that tracks the Lake Shore Drive Bridge over the mouth of the Chicago River, Monday morning, May 10, 2020.
Cyclists, runners and pedestrians all are likely to enjoy the view from the final portion of the Navy Pier Flyover, which was officially opened on Monday.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Bob Scheidt, who lives on the 45th floor of nearby Lake Point Tower, said he’s been watching the flyover progress from his condo windows. Scheidt, a frequent lakefront walker, said he’s also looking forward to less traffic.

“It was just very crowded. I chose my times carefully to avoid the crowds,” he said. “I never came across on weekends. Never. Too many people.”

A completed portion of the flyover has for months provided a much improved experience by carrying users over Grand and Illinois streets, eliminating the street-level crossings.

Construction on the Flyover Project began in 2014 and was originally slated for completion in 2018; then the middle of 2019; then the end of 2019; then the spring of 2020; then the end of 2020. As of Monday, the path is completely open — although officials said some limestone panels still need to be attached.

That drew repeated criticism that it had taken longer to finish than the Golden Gate Bridge, which was built in four years.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks during a new conference to officially open the last stretch of the Navy Pier Flyover project near the Lake Shore Drive Bridge over the mouth of the Chicago River, Monday morning, May 10, 2020.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks Monday at the official opening of the last stretch of the Navy Pier Flyover project, near the Lake Shore Drive Bridge over the mouth of the Chicago River. The completed project “will make our lakefront shine that much more brightly,” Lightfoot said.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times