New Look for Busy Chicago Expressway

Tue April 25, 2006 - Midwest Edition
Lori Lovely

It’s been years in the planning, but the time for Dan Ryan’s makeover is now here.

“The Dan Ryan opened more than 40 years ago and it is now feeling the effects of as many as 320,000 vehicles that travel the expressway every day,” Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary (IDOT) Tim Martin told reporters. “That’s why IDOT is investing more than $600 million in the South Side to build a safer Dan Ryan, add a new lane in each direction, improve local access roads and spur job creation and economic development.”

Chicago’s busiest expressway, the Dan Ryan ranks as one of the most congested in the nation.

The 14-lane expressway — one of the world’s widest — opened Dec. 15, 1962, and was named for Dan Ryan, president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, because he was one of the prime movers of the expressway system in Chicago.

The Dan Ryan uses the “dual-dual” design, which consists of seven-lane widths in each direction split into four lanes of high-speed through traffic and three lanes of collector-distributor traffic.

In 1963, more than 150,000 vehicles traveled on this roadway every day. Today traffic has more than doubled. The road has surpassed its intended design life by more than 20 years.

The makeover intends to reduce accident rates and relieve congestion; rebuild deteriorating pavement; eliminate flooding; and improve the Skyway interchange.

Anticipated accomplishments of this two-year stage of the project include: reconstruction of local access roads between 47th and 63rd streets; synchronized timing of traffic lights; addition of designated turn lanes at 55th and 67th; improved curb design on local access roads; improved pedestrian accommodations surrounding CTA stations; and improved landscaping of local access roads.

It’s taken IDOT two years of preparation work to get ready for what, according to the Associated Press, authorities are calling the “most complicated and most trying road project ever to the Chicago area.” Through 2007, the busy expressway will be virtually reduced to half its size, with its express lanes gone and traffic rerouted to local lanes.

Prep work focused on retaining walls, exit and entrance ramps, cross-street bridges and the interchange with the Chicago Skyway (I-90), which was rebuilt and reconfigured for improved safety and better traffic flow.

Much of South Lake Shore Drive and Stony Island Avenue has been rebuilt. IDOT also improved frontage roads adjacent to the expressway.

In addition, IDOT reconstructed or added new signal timings on Lafayette, State and Wentworth, Wells between 67th and 47th streets, and major alternate routes. Improved signal timings along Ashland Avenue will help when outbound traffic diverts to the alternate route.

While Ashland serves as the official alternate route on the west for outbound traffic, Stony Island Avenue and South Lake Shore Drive take on alternate route status for inbound traffic on the east.

“Except for truckers, those who use the Dan Ryan should begin planning their commutes for the next two construction seasons,” Martin advised. “There is a way out: Reroute. Drivers should avoid the Dan Ryan entirely.”

Remodeling One Step at a Time

As advance contract reconstruction along the corridor wraps up, IDOT began shutting down lanes on March 31 in order to commence work on the 9-mi. stretch of the Expressway in both directions from 13th Street to the Bishop Ford (I-94)/I-57 Interchange on the city’s south side.

In the north section that includes the Dan Ryan Elevated Bridge between 13th and 28th streets, traffic will be confined to three lanes in each direction during bridge rehabilitation on the inbound.

Express lanes in the middle section between 31st Street to 71st Street will be completely closed in both directions during reconstruction.

IDOT hopes to open one express lane by Sept. 15. Work on the south section from 71st Street to the I-57/Bishop Ford Expressway (I-94) Interchange is tentatively scheduled to begin in August, continuing through November 2007. Ramp reconstructions and the addition of a new auxiliary lane and shoulder will be constructed.

Walsh serves as the general contractor for the mammoth project, overseeing work on the three contracts already let: two pertain to reconstructing the express lanes between 31st and 67th streets (one contract for each direction), with the third contract for resurfacing work between 16th and 31st streets through the elevated section.

Later this year a fourth contract will cover work on 67th to 95th streets. Next year, contracts will be let to bid for work on the local lanes, where traffic is now diverted.

All contracts carry incentive/penalty clauses. Mike Claffey, IDOT spokesman, mentioned one clause specifically: “There’s an incentive to get one lane open by September 15 so we’ll have four lanes available for traffic.”

Makeover Friends in the Neighborhood

IDOT and its Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Resource Center made an unprecedented effort to assist small firms and minority contractors in getting a shot at revamping the Dan Ryan by setting aside a portion of the contracts for small businesses and increasing its goal of minority involvement to 25 percent.

That translates into more than $62 million of the $275.8 million in total Dan Ryan contracts awarded that were won by DBE companies.

Outside of construction, nearly $17 million of $84.5 million in professional services contracts were awarded to DBEs.

Two major engineering consulting contracts were awarded to two joint DBE ventures. A $90-million contract to oversee the mainline reconstruction of the northbound lanes was awarded to the African-American Dan Ryan Inspection Team, a joint-venture between Environmental Design International Inc. and Infrastructure Engineering Inc.

A $36-million contract for bridge deck repairs was awarded to Tecma-Omega JV, a joint-venture of Tecma Associates Inc. and Omega & Associates Inc.

“The award of these prime contracts represents a real breakthrough for minority-owned engineering firms,” stated Martin. “This demonstrates that IDOT is delivering on Governor Blagojevich’s commitment to open up the road-building process to greater minority participation.”

IDOT has surpassed the U.S. Department of Labor’s federal workforce requirement of 19.6 minority participation: 49 percent of the workers on the Dan Ryan project are minorities.

Although the U.S. Department of Transportation denied the governor’s request for a waiver to increase local hiring, IDOT continues to work toward creating new opportunities on the project.

Because the Dan Ryan exerts enormous influence over the people who drive on it, the neighborhoods lined alongside it, and the industrial environs it weaves through, in addition to improving the expressway, IDOT is “On the Move to Improve” the communities that surround the Dan Ryan. IDOT has invested more than $4.6 million in a work force training and supportive services program to help benefit local businesses and community members.

IDOT is trying to be a good neighbor to commuters and local businesses. Claffey said it recognizes that its disrupting lives, but that IDOT has made a “huge effort to communicate with locals. We have a very aggressive outreach program. We’re on ’information-overload’ to make sure no one is surprised about what’s going on.”

Its three-pronged attack includes a massive media campaign to help spread the word, street teams to leaflet areas where new rush hour parking restrictions are being implemented to aid traffic on the alternate routes, and community meetings that make up part of the community outreach program.

Cleaning Up by Greening Up

Among the issues that arose from those community meetings was a health concern about air quality. Concrete infrastructure isn’t the only thing undergoing a makeover during this project.

The Dan Ryan project has been recognized as one of the largest “green” construction projects in the country. As part of a “Clean Air Construction Initiative” launched last year and funded in part through a $60,000 federal grant from the EPA, IDOT is implementing a provision slated to be federally mandated in 2010 ahead of schedule, requiring heavy construction equipment to be retrofitted with devices designed to reduce harmful emissions or use ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, which is significantly cleaner than regular diesel fuel.

The change affects approximately 290 pieces of equipment and is contractually required on the Dan Ryan project, Martin explained. IDOT also has instituted five-minute idling limits and dust controls in order to reduce construction-related air emissions.

Claffey said Walsh has been instructed to circulate water through adjacent neighborhoods tanks daily to reduce dust.

The initiative is the result of recommendations from health and environmental focus groups and partnerships with the U.S. 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.

However, it has stirred up controversy. Bill Grams, executive director of the Illinois chapter of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, is reportedly concerned that the initiative will result in increased costs for contractors and tax payers.

He believes that many contractors aren’t financially prepared to meet the federal diesel emission standards that aren’t due to go into effect unitl 2010, and they won’t be able to afford the $2,000-$3,000 cost of the emission reduction units required for machinery.

The result of escalated costs could mean small contractors are eliminated from contract bidding. Grams believes this would raise the price of state projects and make them more expensive for taxpayers.

“Taxpayers end up eating that cost,” he said.

Claffey countered by pointing out that the agency has become proactive with important environmental issues by implementing the initiative early.

“The cost is minimal, and it’s simply the right thing to do,” he said.

This is the first use of IDOT’s tighter construction equipment emission standards, which were officially introduced last year.

He also questioned whether reducing construction equipment emissions will have any effect on the area’s total pollution. As one of the nation’s busiest expressways, the Dan Ryan’s regular daily traffic emissions will impact nearby residents, regardless of construction.

To prove Claffey right, IDOT installed devices to monitor air quality along the Dan Ryan construction zone. Other monitors were installed at six public elementary schools and a park. IDOT will use information from those devices as guides for future construction.

Safety is another “huge priority,” according to Claffey, pointing out that IDOT has seen positive results over the past few years in response to safety precautions.

“In 2003 we had 44 fatalities; in 2004, we had 38; in 2005 we had 26. You can see a steady decline,” he said.

Instead of resting on its laurels, however, IDOT is getting tough on the Dan Ryan.

Claffey said it has implemented photo enforcement of the 45 mph work zone speed. The first offense will cost a driver $375; the second offense will run $1,000.

To ease congestion and frustration, Walsh constructed six temporary ramps so the approximately 300 construction trucks won’t have to blend with traffic.

Of course, there’s always public transportation. IDOT is urging commuters to use the CTA or the metro — once again being a good neighbor by driving more business their way, Claffey said. CEG