Chicago's Four-Year I-90/94 at I-290 Project Reconstructs One of Nation's Most-Congested Interchanges
The I-90/94 at I-290 Jane Byrne Interchange in the heart of downtown Chicago ranks as the slowest and most-congested highway freight bottleneck in the nation with more than 1,100 crashes reported on average per year, according to the American Transportation Research Institute and the Federal Highway Administration. High traffic volume (as many as 400,000 vehicles per day), single-lane ramps, and tight curves often result in breakdown conditions for most of the day.
To fix the safety and mobility issues, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) has undertaken a $600 million project to reconstruct the aging interchange, often referred to as the Circle Interchange because the curving ramps form concentric rings. Planning began in spring 2012, the first contract was let in August 2013, and work will continue for the next four years.
"We're looking at generating approximately 5,000 jobs over the course of the project, decreasing traffic delays by 50 percent over the course of the day, reducing the predicted number of crashes by 25 percent, and cutting idle time to save 1.6 million gallons of fuel annually and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by one-third," said Tony Quigley, IDOT's Region 1 Engineer of Project Implementation.
Step by Step
Built in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Jane Byrne Interchange links the Dan Ryan Expressway (I-90/94) to the south, the Kennedy Expressway (I-90/94) to the north, the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) to the west, and Congress Parkway to the east. Over the course of the multi-year project, "We'll address some deficiencies on I-90/94 to increase from three to four lanes," Quigley said. "We're also looking to correct the North to West direction from I-90/94 to Westbound I-290. We had a single-lane, winding ramp that carried 35,000 vehicles a day; now we're building a flyover structure with a smoother transition and a second lane. That ramp will improve capacity and traffic flow. We're also reconstructing aging pavement and increasing capacity through the interchange."
By the end of 2015, IDOT awarded 13 low-bid contracts valued at a total of $198 million. (See "Project Breakdown" sidebar.) That included low-profile work such as pump stations, water main procurement, street surveillance cameras, landscaping, and tunnel bulkheads, as well as reconstruction of crossroad bridges.
The very first contract replaced the bridge structure that carries Morgan Street over I-290. That project, along with a number of the smaller contracts, have been completed. Quigley expects other work-including bridges at Halsted/Harrison Streets, East Harrison Street, Peoria Street, and the Ramp Northwest Flyover-to finish by this spring.
After that, "We'll look at putting out bids for more jobs," he said. "These initial contracts were low-impact to the motoring public. The contracts coming up afterward will have more impact-we'll start reconstruction of I-290 in both directions, followed by the reconstruction of I-90/94."
Funding for the project is provided through IDOT's multi-year plan.
According to Quigley, the biggest challenge for the project is working in the City of Chicago. To minimize traffic disruptions through the busy area, IDOT restricts lane closures to nights. However, "With the Cubs, White Sox, Blackhawks, Bulls, Bears, marathons, and all the other special events in the City of Chicago, there's always something going on," he said.
Unrelated work nearby-last year on the Ohio Street Bridge 2 miles to the north and this year on I-55 and Lakeshore Drive 1-mile southeast-creates more complications in maintaining traffic flow. Normally, "When we're just doing one job, we say no lane closures until one hour after a game," Quigley said. "Here, we're looking at what kind of game it is-playoffs, Stanley Cup, etc. We have to look at each event on more of an individual basis."
At times the work requires full interstate stoppages for worker and traffic safety. For instance, when crews installed the curved steel beams on the 2,000-foot long Northwest Flyover structure, "We had 15-minute stops so we could pick up the beams and put them up safely," Quigley said.
That work took place over two weekends last August, one weekend in September, and one weekend in October (spaced to avoid special events). "On each of those four weekends, we used a 500-ton crane and two 300-ton cranes to set the beams, along with three support cranes and seven man lifts out there to put bolts in," Quigley said.
In addition to all the construction equipment and traffic around the worksites, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) line goes down the middle of I-290. "Morgan, Peoria, and Halsted Streets are all within a very short area with CTA stations and we had to maintain access to two out of the three stations at all times," Quigley said.
Utility lines on the bridges also complicated the work. "We couldn't start work on the bridge at Peoria Street until we finished Morgan Street because of the CTA stations, but also because they transferred power off Morgan Street to Peoria Street, then had to move it back before we started demolition at Peoria," Quigley said.
Finally, with all the buildings that surround the interchange, "Every project has requirements for vibration and displacement monitoring," Quigley said. "We don't vibrate our piles; we do caissons."
Various strategies helped IDOT and its contractors stay on schedule. For instance, as part of the Federal Highway Administration's Every Day Counts Initiative, IDOT specified precast concrete deck panels to expedite the Peoria Street bridge replacement. Although that project ran into challenges with utilities and other outside issues, "The precast panels helped maintain the schedule," Quigley said. "They installed the panels in four days, then they just sealed the joints up and were able to restore access a lot faster."
That job also included reconstruction of a CTA station. "We're the department of highways; we don't normally do building structures," Quigley said. "We coordinated and cooperated with our partners and CTA for that work."
On the Morgan Street bridge abutment, IDOT approved a value engineering proposal for micropiles instead of caissons. "Because there were so many utilities there, the contractor proposed micropiles as a means to build the abutment more efficiently and quickly," Quigley said. "Since the micropiles are smaller and the equipment to get into it is not as big, we were able to work around some of the utilities, including some high-voltage lines."
In the recently completed tunnel bulkhead work, original plans called for a bladder system. "The contractor switched to a stainless steel bulkhead because we could get it manufactured quicker," Quigley said. "That helped save time as far as getting to the abutment work at Halsted and Harrison Streets."
On the Northwest Flyover bridge, IDOT specified metallized beams. "Since it's going up and over the interchange, it reduces painting and maintenance," Quigley said.
"We try to learn from contract to contract what worked and what hasn't worked," he added. "For instance, we're looking at doing more permanent casings in our caissons. We're finding in some areas where the soil conditions aren't as good, we'll pour the caissons in a wet condition instead of pumping it dry so it doesn't suck the water down in the surrounding areas. We have buildings around the project so we're trying not to alter any of the conditions, but just work with what's there."
By the time the massive interchange reconstruction finishes in four years, the City of Chicago will benefit from increased capacity and safety in the heart of downtown, as well as an enhanced multimodal system on the surrounding streets with bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and better access to transit.