Improving the Ike: Officials want to rebuild Eisenhower using federal infrastructure funds

Proposed $2.7B I-290 construction project would alleviate traffic, improve safety, proponents say
CHICAGO (WLS) -- Lawmakers, labor and business leaders joined together Tuesday in a call for federal money to rebuild one of the Chicagoland area's most congested roadways.

Anyone who travels on the Eisenhower Expressway, especially during rush hour, knows what a nightmare it can be.

"You never quite know when you're going to be in a parking lot versus crawling at 20 miles per hour," said Erin Shade, who often drives on the Eisenhower.

Built in the 1950s, the Eisenhower Expressway is now handling five times the traffic it was designed to. And while it was designed to last about 50 years, it's now been in use for more than 70.

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The proposed project does not have a funding source, and leaders say it can't be done without a major investment of federal dollars. The project would not only improve traffic, but provide a boost to the region's economy.

The Ike was built to handle 40,000 vehicles a day. Now it averages 200,000. At a downtown gathering of local leaders and elected officials, House Speaker Chris Welch was late because of traffic on the Ike.

"We love the Ike, but the Ike don't love us," Welch said. "This interstate is among the most congested in the nation."

SEE ALSO | Chicago construction: I-294, I-290 Interchange work part of larger improvement project, Illinois Tollway officials say

The proposed project would cost $2.7 billion and would include improvements to aging bridges, the CTA Blue Line (which runs down the middle of the Ike), and would add a fourth lane of traffic west of Austin Boulevard to alleviate the bottleneck. It could also reserve one lane for carpooling.

"We have a chance to make things better, not just in terms of faster commutes, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reconnect communities, to repair racial inequities and displacement and make a difference," said State Sen. Don Harmon, D-Senate President.

The project would also include safety improvements for an expressway that has seen 43 deadly crashes between 2010 - 2019.

An analysis conducted by a local non-profit research organization projects the work would create 20,000 good paying jobs.

"We're estimating that it would grow the local economy by $2.6 billion. So if you look at the total cost of the project that's almost $1 for dollar benefit, you can see," said Mary Tyler, transportation director at Illinois Economic Policy Institute.

As with any major project, improving the Ike would bring with its own set of construction-related traffic headaches, but in the end, it's projected to improve travel times from 25% to more than 50%.
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