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Light at the end of Wacker Drive tunnel, road project

Governor Quinn leads tour which showcases Wacker Drive reconstructiproject Thursday October 4 2012. l Stacie Scott~Sun-Times Media

Governor Quinn leads a tour which showcases the Wacker Drive reconstruction project on Thursday, October 4, 2012. l Stacie Scott~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 6, 2012 6:27AM

It’s a bit eerie walking through the newly constructed Lower Wacker Drive tunnel that will connect thousands of drivers onto the Eisenhower Expressway come December.

That’s because it’s empty, and it’ll soon be below a huge green space and dog park. By the end of the year — an unspecified day in December — drivers will be using the tunnel to get onto the Eisenhower Expressway. It has wider lanes, more lighting to provide safety for drivers, and giant exhaust fans to suck up fumes from cars.

It’s a noticeable improvement to the former ramp, which, as with many ramps was above ground and had drivers anxiously honking and speeding their way into merged lanes.

“I think drivers are going to notice the lighting and the much wider road,” Chicago Department of Transportation project manager Tony Albert said. “It’s going to be a lot easier going from Lower Wacker south to westbound 290.”

It’s almost over — the more than two-year construction project that created headaches for drivers and pedestrians on Wacker Drive. Albert says crews are just putting on the finishing touches like finishing up pavement from Adams to Van Buren streets, and planting the three-acre park near the Congress Parkway Interchange.

“We’ve done quite a lot in such a little time — a very fast-paced project,” he said.

What drivers will see once all of Wacker is completed is widened roads, safer merging ramps, reconfigured traffic signals and added pedestrian refuge islands.

Gov. Pat Quinn and state transportation secretary Ann Schneider led a preview of the project on Thursday, which is on time and below budget at $303 million, with $240 million being reimbursed from the federal government.

“I think when you take a look at what was before, what is now and what will be for years to come, this is a century old project,” Quinn said. “We’re going to make this last a century.”

Quinn stopped by three sites along Wacker Drive to show the project’s progress: the Civic Opera House, the Willis Tower and the Congress Parkway Interchange.

He joked about his love for Lower Wacker and insisted others take advantage of the downtown shortcut.

But what about the $47 million not used for the project? Will the Circle Interchange project become the next big construction headache?

“That’s going to be a very intriguing project….We have to pay attention there because of the time and the pollution caused by the congestion,” Quinn said.

Quinn says he’s excited for some other regional transportation projects, like bus on shoulder lanes: “With the Jane Addams, we may be able to do some very interesting things with bus only lanes.”

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