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Editorial: Cutting Chicago’s Gordian knot

10-16-01 Sears Tower circle interchange from UIC university center.......Rich Hein/Sun-Times

10-16-01 Sears Tower and circle interchange from UIC university center.......Rich Hein/Sun-Times

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Updated: October 1, 2012 5:46PM

Almost nothing blots out our other troubles as readily as an unrelenting traffic jam.

As we crawl along, cursing those who cut into lanes ahead of us or poke along too slowly, we momentarily forget the rest of the ills to which urban life is heir.

So it’s with conflicting emotions that we saw traffic engineers’ preliminary ideas Thursday for attempting to unscramble the notorious downtown interchange not-so-lovingly nicknamed the Spaghetti Bowl.

The confluence of the Dan Ryan, Kennedy and Eisenhower expressways and Congress Parkway is an interweaving of narrow, curving ramps that slows down traffic so effectively it might as well be constructed of molasses.

In fact, surviving the 50-year-old Circle — widely believed to be the world’s only interchange ever to have a university campus named after it — can be a point of painful civic pride, like attending a lifetime of Cubs’ openers.

Other much-maligned traffic traps have come and gone. The Lake Shore Drive “S” curve. The Hillside Strangler. The Skyway Split.

But the Circle lives on, taking up 25 million hours of our time each year. In 2010, it was rated the worst bottleneck in the United States. And that was before recent rate hikes on the tollway steered even more trucks onto the expressways.

If engineers do manage to fix the Circle, we’ll probably feel like the ancient Phrygians when Alexander the Great cut their Gordian knot.

What, we’ll ask, will we do with our time now?

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