Circle reconstruction near campus will cut traffic backups, planners say

Circle interchange

Reconstruction of the Circle interchange could start as early as summer 2014, say Illinois Department of Transportation officials.

Reconstruction of the Circle interchange — the slowest highway freight bottleneck in the nation — could start as early as summer 2014, state officials said Wednesday.

The project will cut annual traffic congestion by 5 million hours, they said at a media briefing before a public hearing on the proposal.

“It will be of great benefit to people living and working in the region,” including 5,000 local jobs, said Steve Schilke, Circle interchange project manager for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Nearly 60 years old, the interchange has never had a major reconstruction.

“It is reaching the end of its design life,” according to a slide presentation shown to reporters.

Ninety percent of the work’s $420 million cost will be picked up by the federal government, Schilke said.

Air pollution will fall by one-third with the daily reduction of 5,500 gallons of gasoline burned by idling vehicles, he said. More than 400,000 vehicles, including 33,000 trucks, move through the interchange daily.

The I-90/94 bottleneck will be reduced by going from three to four lanes in each direction. Two lanes will be added to the two most congested ramps.

Reconstruction will include nine bridges over the Kennedy and Dan Ryan expressways. Better bicycle lanes, wider sidewalks, decorative lighting and ornamental fences are among the improvements.

The design is one of about 40 alternatives considered by state planners.

If nothing were done about the bottleneck, overall delays would jump by more than 50 percent by 2040, the state estimated.

Reconstruction will be along I-90/94 from Roosevelt Road to Lake Street, and I-290/Congress Parkway from Canal Street to Racine Avenue.

At the public hearing Wednesday, residents of Green Street Lofts, 400 S. Green St., said one of the proposed highway ramps would be too close to their building.

More information on the project, including a map of the proposed reconstruction and a form for comments, is available online.

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