How safe are Lake Shore Drive bridges?

September 4, 2013 (CHICAGO)

Infrastructure is a bit like updating your pipes at home: expensive, but there's no real "wow" factor. That is until a pipe bursts, or in this case, concrete crashes to the street below.

Just as the evening rush began, traffic beneath Lake Shore Drive near North Avenue came to a standstill.

"It was a giant slab of concrete. Probably 3-4 inches thick, easily," said Ramsey Al-Abed, witness.

While crews have chipped away and removed the remaining loose concrete, they haven't fixed the problem long-term. An Illinois Department of Transportation analysis from 2012 found the structure of the bridge to be "intolerable" and said repairs should be a "high priority."

Illinois Institute of Technology engineering professor Gongkang Fu literally wrote the book on bridge design. He points out steel rods that help support the road are exposed. But the North Avenue Bridge looks good compared with what we found a few miles north. Under the Drive at Wilson: Netting is up catch falling concrete, and steel supports stick out in several spots.

IDOT graded this bridge less sufficient than North Avenue, the report indicating it's in "advanced deterioration." At the next exit north, inspectors found the bridge over Lawrence is in "serious condition" with "significant section loss." Dr. Fu says he's not worried about structural collapse but...

"They are indeed falling apart, no question about it."

"This is like an old house that really needs renovation, its structure is still OK, but the siding is beginning to fall off," said Ald. Michele Smith, 43rd Ward, transportation committee.

Committees have just begun to meet on a long-term renovation plan for Lake Shore Drive. The alderman says full replacement of any of these bridges is nearly a decade away. The city and state transportation departments say if any of these bridges were truly unsafe, they would shut them down immediately.

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