Byrne Interchange construction to last until 2022; graffiti cleanup to come
March 30, 2019

Auto commuters have gotten used to seeing construction equipment at various sites in the Jane Byrne Interchange.

By Nawal Dairi

The rebuilding of the Jane Byrne (formerly Circle) Interchange that features I-90/94 (the Kennedy Expressway and the Dan Ryan Expressway) and I-290 (the Eisenhower Expressway), begun in 2013 and originally projected to be completed this year, now may last until 2022, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT).

This is the first major infrastructural improvement in the interchange since its construction in the 1950s. The cost of the project will be $713 million, $600 million of which is directly for construction.

Before the project, according to the American Transportation Research Institute and the Federal Highway Administration, the interchange was the slowest and most congested highway freight bottleneck in the nation with more than 300,000 vehicles traveling through the Interchange on a daily basis, and more than 1,100 crashes reported on average per year.

“The life cycle of an asset is 50 to 60 years, especially when you look into how much preventative maintenance has been done on the infrastructure,” P.S. Sriraj, director of the Metropolitan Transportation Support Initiative and lecturer at the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), said. “The interchange, from a life span perspective, may have been structurally sound, but the traffic trying to navigate it has increased over the years.” The construction project was necessary to “accommodate the current demand or future predicted demand,” he added.

The ultimate goal of the construction is to reduce overall delays, improve safety, aesthetic adjustments, and community benefits. IDOT estimated that after the construction is completed that commuters will experience a 50% reduction in delays by the year 2040, a decrease of more than five million hours of annual congestion, and more than 1.6 million gallons of annual gas savings.

The project features three stages subcategorized into 35 contracts. IDOT’s intention behind breaking the project into a number of contracts was to allow more flexibility in scheduling construction. Due to various events and festivals, construction has sometimes had to have been suspended to accommodate the needs of the surrounding areas.

No closings so far

IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said, “A big challenge of the project is that IDOT made a decision to keep as much open as possible during the project. This means no long-term closures of key ramps and no significant lane reductions. By and large, we have been able to do that. This extends the life of the project a bit and makes construction more of a challenge.”

IDOT has noted that the project is taking longer than anticipated. Tridgell said it could have been shorter if expressways would have been closed, but that IDOT wanted to keep the impact to travelers and lane, ramp, and bridge closures to a minimum. Unexpected repairs needed for the Stevenson Expressway/I-55 and Lake Shore Drive also took time away from the Byrne Interchange project, he noted.

The first stage of reconstructing cross bridges at Morgan Street, Peoria Street, Halsted Street, Taylor Street, and Harrison Street and the new north-to-west flyover ramp
near Greektown concluded in 2016.

Tridgell noted the success of the flyover ramp from the in-bound Dan Ryan to the outbound Eisenhower expressway. “Previously that ramp was one that went underneath the interchange with very curvy movements and lacked shoulders,” he explained. “With the new flyover ramp, it essentially ‘flies over’ traffic connecting the Ryan to the Eisenhower expressway. It is much smoother movement. This is probably the biggest improvement we have seen at this stage.”

With 17 contracts completed, IDOT is currently in stage two of construction on the Eisenhower/I-290 westbound and eastbound and on Ida B. Wells Drive (formerly Congress Parkway), with eight projects set for completion in 2019. Both the Van Buren Street bridge and Monroe Street bridge will be refurbished along with a north-to-east ramp. Additional projects include a relocation and improvement of water mains as well as a retaining wall alongside UIC’s east campus recreational facility. IDOT also plans to eliminate the graffiti on the expressway this spring.

Tridgell said of the graffiti, “You are probably seeing more right now because we are coming out of winter. The techniques we use to eliminate graffiti do not work as well in the colder temperatures. In the next few weeks, we will have a concerted effort to eliminate those areas where there is graffiti. I will say that you are probably seeing graffiti that is not just on IDOT’s system but on private buildings or in other spots. It is more of a widespread issue. It would certainly help when acts of vandalism are happening that people do report them. Somebody is seeing them when they happen. We are not out there 24/7 monitoring for graffiti. But clearly people are seeing this happen and if they report to authorities that would help greatly.”

“I work at UIC and there are a few closed ramps which provide access to the campus,” Sriraj said. “This is a temporary discomfort, which is the nature of these large-scale constructions. Once the construction is over, it will be a much better experience, which is the focus for IDOT. That is what we have to look forward to.”

The final stage will focuses on I-90 and I-94 construction (south-bound and northbound), the bridges on Adams Street and Jackson Boulevard, lighting, green space, landscaping, and bridge painting.

In sync with surroundings

“The department is required in all of its projects to use a context sensitivity solutions approach,” Tridgell said. “We are required to build our projects so they are in sync with the surrounding areas. In many cases, this involves green space or some other modes of transportation—bicycle, pedestrian accommodations and public transit. This is something the department has embraced more and more in the last decade, I expect that we will continue to do so.”

In 2020, the ramp from the eastbound Eisenhower to the northbound Kennedy will be closed for three months.

Surrounding the Jane Byrne Interchange is a diverse community of four areas: Greektown and West Loop (northwest), UIC and the Illinois Medical District (southwest), industrial environments, and residential regions.

Frank Caputo of Greektown’s Special Service Area #16 said, “As always, construction can cause concerns to any business. In Greektown specifically, there was some loss of business during the construction, due to Monroe and Van Buren Streets being closed at the same time. Luckily, we don’t believe we will experience this level of construction again.”

Entering the project, IDOT decided that no consecutive bridges should be constructed simultaneously to maintain access to neighborhoods and the downtown area. IDOT expects to remain on its current timetable for concluding construction in 2022.

IDOT’s website on the project is at www.circleinterchange.org.

William S. Bike also contributed to this article.