"What was once a steel facility and has shuttered, because we are making this investment in our Route 41 and Lake Shore Drive, it will become a place for both residential housing and commercial development," Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. "Without the infrastructure investment in building a new Chicago, this would be an eyesore, now it's turning into an economic engine."
The mayor's billed the project as part of his Building a New Chicago infrastructure investment program. The new road will be paved with $19 million in grants from the state and the federal government. Landscaping and traffic lights are included in that figure and the project is expected to be completed by next spring.
U.S. 41 will be rerouted to connect to the north end of the steel plant at 79th Street and South Shore Drive and will continue to the south end of 87th Street and Avenue O.
The mayor says the work will create 75 construction jobs and be done by year's end. Emanuel also hopes it will bring new life -- and hundreds more jobs -- to the neighborhood, where the South Works steel plant has sat empty for years.
"Since the steel mill closed down, same thing. You know, nobody is working. No jobs. The boys are hanging around like nothing to do. They don't have a playground for the kids," Marjorie Ray, resident, said.
"I've seen quite a few changes over here. There used to be a lounge here. There was a steakhouse over here. We have been over here a long time. There used to be a gas station across the street," Mack Higgens, resident, said.
Under a plan approved two years ago, residents are now seeing the beginning stages of a huge effort to redevelop the site. Construction crews are beginning to re-route Route 41 by connecting it at the north end of the steel mill site to the south end.
"This road, when finished, represents the gateway to economic opportunity for all of Chicago," Alderwoman Sandi Jackson said.
Mayor Emanuel said the road is vital for developers who want to invest in the property.
"A lot of big companies on the commercial side are very interested. But they're not going to be interested unless we get this road. Once we get this road, it unlocks other economic investment which will be great job growth," Mayor Emanuel said.
And that's what residents want: jobs.
"All it takes is some jobs. Most of the kids out here need jobs," Ray said.
Redeveloping the entire 360-acre steel mill project will be done in phases. That site has been closed for more than 20 years.