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Road construction may put a bump in summer travel

Looking east  Jane Adams Tollway  (I-90)  Illinois Rte. 47 is new bridge constructiwidening I-90 lanes Thursday May

Looking east on the Jane Adams Tollway (I-90) at Illinois Rte. 47 is new bridge construction and widening of the I-90 lanes, Thursday, May 9 , 2013. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: June 29, 2013 6:02AM



Planning on driving home from a long weekend in Lake Geneva? Heading west to Elgin? Or landing at O’Hare Airport late at night?

Get ready for some heartburn.

The Memorial Day kickoff of the summer travel season is upon us, and everything from major road construction projects to dozens of bridge and ramp repairs will require patience from Chicagoland drivers in the months ahead.

It’s a banner year for the Illinois Tollway, with $922 million in construction planned — more than twice as much as last year and the most in five years.

The whopper among them is the $415.2 million widening of the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90), from I-39 in Rockford to the Elgin Toll Plaza. Through December, about 37 miles of eastbound lanes are being relocated to temporary ones on the westbound side of the roadway while the eastbound lanes are rebuilt.

It’s a troubling prospect for 315,000 daily travelers — many of them from the northwest suburbs — who use I-90.

That includes Gary Becker, 55, of Elgin. His commute home from his Elk Grove Village office turns especially agonizing at the eastern edge of the Jane Addams work.

“At 5 p.m., it’s hell on wheels,’’ said Becker, president of Chicago Sign Designs. “It’s all backed up. It’s bumper to bumper for two to three miles, depending on the day.’’

I-90 is part of one of Becker’s three possible routes home to Elgin — all of them construction-packed choices this year.

“I can’t get around the construction, no matter which way I go home,’’ said Becker, whose other options include parts of Lake Street/Elgin-O’Hare or a mix of side streets, including Arlington Heights Road.

“Typically there’s some road I can sneak through and avoid it. But this year, there’s no way around it.’’

Jane Addams drivers heading to or from Lake Geneva or the Wisconsin Dells through December also need to brace themselves.

The Sunday night caravan coming home from Wisconsin on I-90 is “a headache even when everything is normal,’’ said Joseph Schwieterman, director of DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development.

The good news is the I-90 work will eventually shave 27 minutes off the average trip from Elgin to the Kennedy Expy., tollway officials say.

“The Jane Addams will have a huge impact on drivers, but obviously it’s going to be a big construction zone for the next several years,’’ said Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur.

‘If I live that long’

Bigger picture, the construction will widen a main gateway into the long-awaited Elgin-O’Hare western access project. Planners say the project should change the face of the state’s northwest suburbs by dramatically improving mobility and freight movement from the west to O’Hare.

Advance work on the project this year includes installation of noise walls on the Elgin-O’Hare Expy. between Irving Park and Meacham that could reduce traffic from two lanes to one in each direction.

Becker is looking forward to seeing the whole Elgin-O’Hare western access project completed ­­— something that may not occur until 2025.

“I understand the end results will be wonderful — if I live that long,’’ Becker said.

Other major tollway projects include pavement and bridge repair throughout the original segment of Veterans Memorial Tollway (I-355).

Resurfacing will occur in both directions between I-55 and 83rd, at Butterfield, and from Army Trail to Fullerton.

Veterans Memorial is “a big commuter road, so commuters may be in for a surprise on 355,’’ Schwieterman said. “Even the slightest obstacle can send traffic back.’’

Late-night flier alert

Illinois Department of Transportation projects that could cause headaches include the resurfacing of I-190 for two miles from O’Hare to I-90.

The work is planned for May through July and will involve nighttime resurfacing from Bessie Coleman Drive to I-90. Three lanes each way in and out of O’Hare will narrow to one lane from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and Saturday morning from midnight to 6 a.m.

“People are going to leave the airport in a single lane, so it could cause some frequent fliers some heartburn,’’ Schwieterman said.

Flash Cab driver Tom Burke, 48, has already experienced it in the opposite direction, while dropping a customer at O’Hare around 4 a.m. — a time he said was popular with some travelers out of O’Hare.

“Oh my god. It took me 1½ hours to get from Cumberland to O’Hare,’’ Burke said. “Over the weekend, it was a mess. . . . It was one single lane.’’

Illinois 59, an often-congested major corridor through Naperville and Aurora, is seeing work from Ferry to Aurora Avenue, with route-widening and the construction of a “diverging diamond” ramp configuration over I-88.

In southern Cook County, La Grange Road will be widened for six miles from 179th to 131st, affecting Orland Park, Orland Hills, Tinley Park and Palos Park. Drivers may experience intermittent lane closures, IDOT officials say, but the intent is to maintain two lanes in each direction.

In the short term, the project could snarl the traffic of shoppers headed to and from the Orland Square and Orland Park Place malls on La Grange Road.

IDOT also is widening 1.8 miles of Willow Road, a major east-west corridor for the northern suburbs. Some north suburban residents had fought the idea for years, fearing it would attract faster-moving traffic and endanger their children.

Turn lanes, landscaped islands and pedestrian traffic signals were among the improvements designed to win over opponents. Lanes will be added from Illinois 43 (Waukegan Road) to the I-94 Edens Expressway, affecting Northfield, Northbrook, Glenview and Winnetka.

Willow Road has been “a bottleneck for years,’’ said Steve Schlickman, executive director of the Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois-Chicago. “That’s going to be a very important improvement of traffic flow east and west.’’

The Illinois Trucking Association has its antennae raised about IDOT’s plans to reconstruct Chicago’s Circle Interchange — the most congested freight bottleneck in the nation.

Drivers this year will get only a small taste of the construction ahead. Advance work this year should start this fall on the Morgan Street bridge.

“There will be no permanent lane closures through this construction season and during the advance work there will be minimal impact on traffic – mostly temporary lane closures,’’ said IDOT spokeswoman Jae Miller.

IDOT transportation planners say the project will eventually reduce traffic delays by at least 50 percent.



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