Two-mile South Lake Shore Drive extension to open over the weekend
By ROSALIND ROSSI Transportation Reporter October 24, 2013 5:46PM
Updated: November 26, 2013 6:29AM
A new 2-mile extension of South Lake Shore Drive opens this weekend — a boon to drivers, bicyclists and a development planned on Chicago’s last frontier of large, untapped lakefront property.
The relocation of U.S. Route 41 to several blocks east primes the 600 acres alongside it that once housed U.S. Steel’s South Works plant to one day produce a huge tax base for a cash-crunched city.
Runners and bicyclists will get an unobstructed first crack at the new stretch of U.S. Route 41 on Saturday, with a 5K run and bike event after a 9 a.m. ribbon-cutting.
By 9 a.m. Sunday morning, drivers can tool down the new South Lake Shore Drive extension — from South Shore Drive and 79th to Ewing, near 92nd — at the posted 30 mph speed limit without the five curves that greeted them on the old Route 41.
The Lake Shore Drive extension project has been a top priority of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his Building a New Chicago plan, Chicago Department of Transportation officials say. Emanuel personally visited construction crews in April 2012 as they began the relocation of U.S. Route 41.
But even some folks in the neighborhood can see the positives the new roadway portends.
Rolando Jimenez, 75, says the project — and the development potential it opens — is the best thing to happen to his Southeast Side neighborhood since he bought his home a block from the old Route 41 in 1977.
He figures the new Route 41 will reduce traffic through the neighborhood, and development of the old U.S. Steel site will eventually increase the value of his home.
“This is very good,” Jimenez said. “This is something we’ve been expecting for a long time.’’
Dan McCaffery, chairman and CEO of McCaffery Interests, has been waiting for the route’s ribbon-cutting for some eight years — ever since he says he persuaded city and state transportation officials to abandon a plan for an industrial-focused road in favor of a more residential-friendly boulevard running along the western spine of his planned 600-acre Chicago Lakeside Development.
The result is a $64 million, 2-mile-long roadway with median plantings of crabapple trees and coneflowers, smooth-sailing bike lanes, parallel parking and LED streetlights.
“It’s pretty damn beautiful,” McCaffery said.
Bankrolled by city, state and federal dollars, the south Lake Shore Drive extension includes traffic-sensitive traffic signals at 79th, Farragut, 81st, 83rd and 85th.
Southeast Side residents will be able to travel east on 87th, across the extended Drive, through the Lakeside Development site to the lakefront and a new lakefront park.
“These people have never been able to access the site or get to the lake, even though their homes are a couple blocks from the lake,’’ McCaffery said.
Eventually, other east-west streets will connect into Lakeside and the 14,000 housing units and more than 30 million square feet of commercial and residential space it hopes to one day hold.
“That’s more square feet than on Michigan Avenue,’’ McCaffery said. Groundbreaking could start in as little as a year on the last truly massive parcel of privately-owned lakefront land in Chicago.
The relocated Route 41 also means drivers from the north will now find smoother access to the Chicago Skyway and Indiana.
“We are taking traffic out of the neighborhood, making it a safer and more efficient travel area for the motoring public,” said Tony Quigley, project implementation manager with the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Bicyclists can ride smooth asphalt bike lanes from Rainbow Beach Park south to the Calumet River, and continue on to the Burnham Greenway and even Indiana.
The extension also brings McCaffery one step closer to his dream of building a Barack Obama presidential library on a choice northeast corner of the site. Staring from the plum spot to the breathtaking view of the city’s skyline, MaCaffery Interests senior project manager Nasutsa Mabwa said, “Look at this view. Why wouldn’t you have it here?’’
“It’s right on the lakefront, looking downtown. You have 1 million visitors a year to a presidential library.”
McCaffery acknowledges the new Lake Shore South extension is critical to Chicago Lakeside Development, a project of McCaffery Interests and a subsidiary of U.S. Steel. But, he quickly notes, it’s also a “great deal” for the city and state.
“They are opening 600 acres of land on which there was no tax base, no access to land, no nothing and now we’re making it ready for development,’’ McCaffery said.
“I’m very excited about it.’’