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Chicago’s Dan Ryan Dialed in on Deadline

Mon August 27, 2007 - Midwest Edition
Lori Lovely

Work on Chicago’s Dan Ryan Expressway is going well, claimed Jacek Tyszkiewicz, engineer for project implementation and chief construction engineer for Region 1. He anticipated a late October to early November completion date.

The work is part of Illinois Department of Transportation’s Dan Ryan Expressway reconstruction project from 13th Street to the I-57/Bishop Ford (I-90) interchange. The goal of the two-year $600 million South Side project included adding an additional lane in each direction to reduce congestion, reconfiguring the Skyway interchange and providing upgrades to the local access roads that run parallel to the expressway, as well as installing new storm sewers to address drainage issues and eliminate flooding. In addition to rebuilding deteriorating pavement, reasons given for the massive overhaul include the need to improve motorist safety, reduce accident rates, relieve congestion, reduce commuter times and improve traffic flow.

The 14-lane expressway — Chicago’s busiest — opened in late 1962 and currently ranks as one of the most congested in the nation, with the city’s highest accident rate. Named for Dan Ryan, president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners because he was one of the principal proponents of the expressway system in Chicago, the expressway uses a “dual-dual” design, consisting of seven-lane widths in each direction split into four lanes of high-speed through traffic and three lanes of collector-distributor traffic.

More than 150,000 vehicles traveled on the roadway daily in 1963, but traffic has more than doubled to an estimated 320,000 vehicles every day. In addition to accommodating heavier traffic, the road has simply surpassed its intended design life by more than 20 years.

Work in Progress

Bad weather in March temporarily delayed work, Tyszkiewicz said. For 22 days, it was “cold, rainy and miserable.” That meant that for 22 days, crews waited. “It was the most difficult time on the project. I knew we had deadlines looming, but we couldn’t stripe during the cold spell.”

He explained that crews were polywashing off old striping on the new pavement as work progressed and lanes shifted; however, they couldn’t polywash in the cold temperatures because it would freeze the liquid. Similarly, it was too cold to lay additional striping for the new lanes. “The machines freeze. We were doing it at night because we didn’t want lane closures during the day, but it was even colder at night. The elevated bridges were especially difficult. It took us 22 days to get the entire section in stage.”

Since March, the weather has been cooperative. “It’s been a gorgeous summer,” Tyszkiewicz reflected. “That has helped the contractors.”

Crews have been working six days a week without further rain delays. Due to the benevolent summer weather, he expects contractors to collect incentives by finishing two weeks early.

Another situation that has helped contractors move forward so quickly was the way IDOT has maximized work zones. Not only did the method give crews room to work, it also enhanced safety by decreasing interaction with traffic because there are minimal points in and out of the work zone. “In a segmented work zone, you have to cross traffic a lot more.” Walsh Construction Co., the project’s general contractor, constructed six temporary ramps so the approximately 300 construction trucks would not have to blend with traffic.

Check Off the List

As the project went through different stage changes, IDOT continued to alleviate congestion by keeping every other ramp open. “Traffic is moving better this year,” Tyszkiewicz believes. “That’s due to having four lanes open above the Skyway. We have more capacity between 31st and 75th streets.”

Four of the five lanes south of 71st Street on the Skyway have been completed, Tyszkiewicz stated. Work on the fifth lane between 71st and 99th streets should be finished soon.

Work already completed included reconstruction of local access roads between 47th and 63rd streets, synchronized timing of traffic lights, addition of designated turn lanes at 55th and 67th streets, improved curb design on local access road and improved pedestrian accommodations surrounding CTA stations.

When the project is finished, all lanes of traffic from 31st Street to I-57 will be completely reconstructed, with an additional local lane in each direction from 47th Street to 63rd Street and from 67th Street to 95th St., adding capacity. A full interchange will be created at 47th Street by adding a northbound exit/southbound entrance. Ramps will be reconfigured to improve traffic merges. “Before, the ramps were tight. Now, they’re longer. It’s safer getting on and off the expressway.” Timing of traffic lights will be synchronized. Updated high-mast lighting and overhead message signs will be added. Higher barrier walls along the CTA will prevent cars from going onto the tracks.

Landscaping and striping remain on the “to-do” list.

Base Ingredients

Dan Ryan traffic will ride on a 30-year pavement design that is relatively maintenance-free. Re-doing the drainage will help preserve the pavement, Tyszkiewicz added. He indicated that the 24 in. (60 cm) of sub-base, 6 in. (15 cm) of base and 14 in. (35 cm) of reinforced concrete will withstand weather and traffic conditions. The base consists of an aggregate mixture that includes the old Dan Ryan concrete. It is crushed on-site and reused.

“This is one of the greatest urban reconstruction projects in the country,” Tyszkiewicz bragged. It’s also one of the “greenest.” Because one of the issues that arose from community meetings was a health concern about air quality, the IDOT contracts called for use of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, which is significantly cleaner than regular diesel fuel, to reduce emissions from heavy equipment. The change affected approximately 300 pieces of equipment on the job site on any given day. Tyszkiewicz estimated that to date, 500,000 gal. (1.8 million L) of ultra-low sulfur diesel have been used on the project.

The provision is slated to be federally mandated in 2010 as part of the “Clean Air Construction Initiative” funded in part through a $60,000 federal grant from the EPA. The initiative was the result of recommendations from health and environmental focus groups and partnerships with the United States and Illinois environmental protection agencies, Chicago public schools, the American Lung Association and local community agencies. Its purpose is to reduce emissions from heavy equipment and trucks during construction in order to maintain the health of area residents.

IDOT has monitored air quality throughout the project, “chasing fugitive particles,” according to Tyszkiewicz. To reduce dust, Walsh circulated 5 to 6 water trucks and sweepers on a daily basis. In addition, IDOT changed certain procedures, instituting a five-minute idling limit and other dust control measures in order to reduce construction-related air emissions. Instead of pounding piles, crews on this project drill piles. “It saves vibration and noise,” Tyszkiewicz explains — not to mention dust.

“We have analyzed the data,” he continued, “and we’re consistently below EPA standards.” He admitted to a “couple days” when they were “borderline,” but said they changed procedures on those hot, humid days in order to maintain good air quality.

Bundles Broken

In addition to maintaining air quality, IDOT worked to maintain relationships with the communities around the Dan Ryan, investing more than $4.6 million in a work force training and supportive services program to benefit local businesses. IDOT opened a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Resource Center to assist and support small businesses that wanted to become involved with the project.

Encouraging small businesses was such a critical part of the project, IDOT “unbundled” contracts for work on the Dan Ryan. Large contracts were broken down into several smaller projects, typically $500,000 or less. Unbundling has been done before, but not to this extent. “We’re breaking big contracts into small pieces to increase the pool of contractors,” Tyszkiewicz states. For example, a 3 to 4-ft. (.9 to 1.2 m) knee wall with fencing on top was broken into 38 contracts that allowed smaller contractors to take advantage of the situation to bid. However, all pre-qualified contractors can bid on these projects, both large and small firms. These are not set-asides. The low bidder is awarded the contract.

So many small contracts and multiple contractors might raise the question of consistency in the finished product, but IDOT consultants and engineers coordinate all contracts for consistency. Tyszkiewicz explained that a rigid quality control/quality assurance system is in place to ensure a consistent product. All material must be inspected and approved for quality and workmanship, he insisted.

Concrete, for example, has different hues from different sources. Tyszkiewicz said concrete commonly comes from Chinese, U.S. and Egyptian sources, all of which offer a slightly different product. “We’re careful to get the contractors to use the same source — especially on the wall. Pavement gets dirty from traffic, so color differences aren’t so noticeable. But different colors on sections of a vertical wall would stand out, so we work to avoid that.”

Challenging Situations

Maintaining consistency among a multitude of contractors working on small contracts can be a formidable task, but it is not the only obstacle IDOT has worked hard to overcome. “We hit rock a few times this year, but we got through it quickly,” Tyszkiewicz said. “We hit it last year, so it wasn’t a surprise.” IDOT also worked out ramp closings to accommodate game traffic.

But one of the biggest challenges any project faces is safety. With the busy expressway reduced to virtually half its size, its express lanes gone and traffic rerouted to local lanes, delays and congestion were expected. IDOT’s plan to keep heavy trucks on the Dan Ryan and keep cars off, as well as options such as alternate routes and the CTA (which just so happens to go right down the middle of the Dan Ryan), helped. “Delays have been kept to a minimum,” Tyszkiewicz said, indicating 30 to 40-minute delays, as opposed to the hour-long back-ups many dreaded.

In addition to addressing congestion, IDOT focused on safety by implementing photo enforcement of the 45-mph work zone speed. The first offense costs a driver $375; a second offense runs $1,000. “The best way to prevent an accident is to slow people down,” Tyszkiewicz reiterated.

He credited media outreach with helping to spread the word about project updates, lane closures, restrictions and other project news, saying it has increased cooperation from drivers and local businesses. In return for their patience, Tyszkiewicz hoped that what, according to the Associated Press, authorities are calling the “most complicated and most trying road project ever to the Chicago area” will be a distant memory by November. CEG

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