By Madeline Makoul
Officials expect the Jane Byrne Interchange expressway improvements, which began in 2013, to conclude in 2022 as the financial cost increases to $790 million.
The massive project by the Illinois Department of Transportation is rebuilding and reinforcing infrastructure as well as improving and streamlining traffic movement while keeping the interchange open for 400,000 motorists daily. The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) organized the project into three stages. Stage 1 addresses cross street bridges, stage 2 works on I-290 (Eisenhower Expressway)/Ida B. Wells Drive, and stage 3 covers I-90 and 94 (the Kennedy and Dan Ryan Expressways).
According to Maria Castaneda, IDOT communications manager, the agency originally estimated Jane Byrne construction at $535.5 million and expected the project to conclude in 2018. It has updated financial plans each year, with the numbers increasing for reasons “expected with a project of this size,” Castaneda said.
A $254.5 million jump sounds steep, yet as Castaneda explained, “Some of the main cost increases include keeping the roadway open throughout construction, restricted work times, constrained work area, site conditions, and rising material and land acquisition costs.”
Chicago’s notoriously treacherous winter weather creates additional factors that inhibited project completion, Castaneda said.
P.S. Sriraj, director of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Urban Transportation Center at the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs and director of the Metropolitan Transportation Support Initiative, said planners actually expect such cost overruns and delays with these types of projects, especially one on this large a scale.
“This is not a classic cookie cutter transportation construction project where you’re just going in and putting things in place and getting out,” Sriraj said. “You are trying to coexist with the flowing traffic, so that’s the biggest challenge in my opinion. In general, large construction projects of this magnitude have always faced a little bit of an uncertain future in terms of timeliness of completion and the costs associated.”
Keeping interchange open
While cost overruns and a pushed-out finish date are not unique to this project, Sriraj noted unusual factors including the project’s vast size and the need to keep the interchange open throughout construction because many highways converge there.
Congestion always has been high on the Jane Byrne Interchange because it forms the meeting point for three major expressways—I-90, I-94, and I-290—with I-55 (the Stevenson Expressway) in close proximity, Sriraj said.
Before construction, traffic could not “get through in reasonable time with all the delays, which affects all walks of life including the economy—and not just the local economy, but the national economy as freights cross through Chicago and go coast to coast,” Sriraj explained. “The other piece of the puzzle is the condition of the infrastructure because of the age and life expectancy of the structure. It was due for a boost.”
Castaneda noted a wide range of benefits resulting from the project, including improvement to traffic flow and motorist safety. IDOT has doubled lanes in the interchange’s most congested area and improved merge lanes. Castaneda added such improvements will reduce emissions while providing amenities including wider sidewalks, bicycle lanes, and aesthetic improvements such as new greenery and decorative patterns on expressway walls and bridges.
Due for maintenance
Sriraj characterized improving these structures as vital. He said they typically can last for anywhere from 50 to 100 years, yet with many expressways built in the 1950s and 1960s, they were due for maintenance via repaving, redoing bridges, and reinforcing substructures. Adding to the urgency has been the D rating many of these infrastructures in Illinois carry due to their condition.
“I know I might be in the minority when I say more construction is needed on the roads,” Sriraj said. “Many of these infrastructure assets are old and nearing the end of their useful life, and it’s much needed in terms of interventions to improve those assets.”
IDOT does not expect any setbacks resulting from COVID-19 issues, Castaneda said. Work is continuing, with the recent closure of the Jackson Boulevard Bridge and ramps in March and traffic rerouted to Van Buren Street until workers finish the new bridge in 2022.
As part of the Jane Byrne Interchange reconstruction, IDOT on June 1 closed the ramp connecting the inbound Eisenhower Expressway with the outbound Kennedy Expressway. The ramp will be closed for four months. A detour sends drivers down the Dan Ryan Expressway to Taylor Street and then back on to the Kennedy. Taylor Street is closed to street traffic between Union Avenue and Ruble Street, although pedestrians and bicyclists still may use it. IDOT also closed the inbound Dan Ryan ramp from Roosevelt Road, detouring motorists down Halsted Street to Adams Street.
To learn more about Jane Byrne Interchange construction, visit www.janebyrneinterchange.org.