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Circle Interchange slated for massive, multi-year overhaul

IDOT plan for Circle Interchange upgrade.

IDOT plan for Circle Interchange upgrade.

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Updated: October 1, 2012 6:02PM

If you live in Chicago, you’ve been on the Circle Interchange.

And you’ve likely been stuck on it.

The Circle — one of the slowest and most congested bottlenecks in the country — is now slated for a massive overhaul that could begin as soon as 2014, and slow traffic even more throughout the “multiple years” of construction.

The plan ultimately is to ease traffic by expanding capacity on the ramps that form the circle-shaped interchange where the Eisenhower Expy. meets the Dan Ryan and Kennedy expressways downtown. The project also calls for adding extra lanes to the Ryan and Kennedy under the Circle and in the run-up to it.

Exact design plans are not even close to being done, but project leaders said Thursday the goals are clear: make more room for cars to ease traffic jams and replace the aging infrastructure.

“We’re looking at a complete structural replacement and a reconfiguring of the interchange itself,” said project manager Steve Schilke of the Illinois Department of Transportation. “But our goal is to work within this [structural constraints], a little over a city block of this area. But it is possible” to add lanes.

There would be two extra lanes added to the Dan Ryan and Kennedy in each direction around the Circle.

An extra lane would also be added to the curving ramp that connects the inbound Eisenhower to the northbound Kennedy.

There would also be a new lane added to the ramp that brings northbound Dan Ryan drivers to the Eisenhower.

A preliminary analysis found adding lanes to the ramps can ease congestion by as much as 30 percent. The Circle carries 300,000 vehicles a day, and has been ranked the worst truck bottleneck in the nation and one of the worst for cars.

A “ballpark” figure of $375 million was estimated for construction based on the general cost of replacing bridge decks and pavement, but that amount may vary depending on which design ultimately makes the cut, officials said. The plan is for 90 percent of the money to come from the feds and 10 percent from the state.

Project team members and leaders showed off the early plans to reporters on Thursday prior to a public meeting at an Illinois Medical District hotel. The public is being asked to look at five conceptual designs and weigh in. The different plans move exits around to help alleviate congestion. Project members say they hope the public can identify problem areas the team may have missed. Those conceptual renderings can be viewed on beginning Friday.

“The project is to fix this interchange and we’re not looking to fix all of the expressways. We don’t think we’re going to,” Schilke said. There’s still constraints at Hubbard’s Cave to the north. The Kennedy is also oversaturated. We know that.

“The high bridge or the Mile-Long Bridge to the south, that’s got capacity issues. We’re well aware of those. This is just to fix this location, to help the area, the region that is using the expressway.”

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