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Circle Interchange makeover: Short-term pain, long-term gain

Updated: May 5, 2013 3:14PM

A proposed four-year revamp of the oft snarled downtown Circle Interchange that could begin next year will be like major reconstructive surgery, painful for while, but better in the long run, transportation officials said Wednesday.

The 60-year-old spaghetti bowl of ramps connecting the Dan Ryan, Kennedy and Eisenhower Expressways, along with Congress Parkway, is one of the most congested highway bottlenecks in the country and needs to be updated, said Steve Schilke, project planner with the Illinois Department of Transportation.

“We’re looking to minimize impact on motorists as much as possible,” said Schilke, who noted the plan would create 5,000 jobs.

Under the $420 million plan, which is yet to be finalized and still needs to secure federal and state funding, the connection from the southbound Kennedy to the eastbound Congress might close for a year.

Schilke said the overall reduction in delays could be as much as 50 percent.

Other parts of the proposal include expanding 90-94 from three to four lanes in each direction through the Circle and doubling the lanes to two on congested ramps between northbound 90-94 to westbound I-290, and eastbound I-290 to northbound 90-94.

An elevated ramp connecting the northbound 90-94 to westbound I-290 that would be built over Halsted Street is also part of the plan.

Two entrances onto 90-94 at Adams and Jackson, dubbed suicide ramps because of the quick merger onto central lanes, are being moved to the outside lanes.

A confusing array of signs would also be consolidated.

Stern opposition to part of the plan that originally called for a ramp to pass about seven feet from t he Green Street Lofts building, at 400 S. Green St., came from angry residents who predicted noise and air pollution, as well as danger, possibly from cars careening off the ramp.

Officials on Tuesday said the ramp had been moved back to about 20 feet from the building, a compromise that was not acceptable to residents. The ramp is currently about 58 feet from the building.

“Seven feet was insane, 20 feet is not that much better,” said condo president Dave Lewis, who backs an alternate plan that would send the proposed ramp underground. Lewis said residents of the building were not given sufficient time to react to the plan. “We’re getting screwed here.”

More than 400,000 motorists use the interchange every day. More than 400,000 motorists use the interchange every day.

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