Kennedy Expressway reversible lanes close for 2nd phase of construction project

Tuesday, March 12, 2024
Drivers brace for traffic jams during Kennedy work
Drivers are bracing for traffic jams during expanded Kennedy work this year.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- There was gridlock and traffic jams during the first rush hour as the Kennedy Expressway construction project picked back up.

"It usually takes me 10, seven to 10 minutes," commuter Shawn Jones said. And Tuesday, it took her, " About 35 minutes, I just have to be patient."

Late Monday night the express lanes were closed for the start of the next phase of the big Kennedy reconstruction project.

Last year, the inbound lanes were worked on. Tuesday, the express lanes are officially closed from the Edens Junction to Ohio Street. More than 275,000 vehicles use the Kennedy daily.

With these mild temperatures, work is starting earlier than scheduled.

So what's happening? Aside from new, faster gates, crews will repair bridge structures and lights, improve Hubbard's Cave and more,

But drivers should know this will add to their commute in both directions:

"You gotta be patient because if you're not patient you're gonna get in trouble," commuter Carlos Cancel said. "What they are doing is going to be for a reason, they gonna repair because we need it."

"I'm going downtown," commuter Jose Flores said. "They say an hour and 16 minutes; I hit Montrose and Cicero, take me like 35 minutes, but, today, wake up early haha that's all, you know"

This is phase two of the $150 million three-year project.

Illinois Department of Transportation officials recommend staggering your morning commute later or earlier or taking public transportation instead - like the Blue Line or Metra. In fact, Metra officials are expecting an increase in passengers because of the roadwork.

Tuesday afternoon was the first afternoon commute drivers weren't able to use the express lanes.

Traffic jams could be seen on both the Kennedy and Edens, approaching the Junction, Tuesday morning.

"I was driving home last night, and it was a nightmare because they started reducing lanes, and it was about a half an hour to get through 2 miles of traffic," driver Ofelia Guerra said. "We've been through this before. We went through the first phase and now this is phase two, so we should know what to expect. Just be a little patient. Be kind to other drivers who are trying to merge into lanes."

Drivers are bracing for gridlock during rush hour on the more than 60-year-old expressway.

"Coming this way, I'm like 'oh my God, it is terrible!'" driver Jovan Mallard said. "I came from the Northwest Side, and it was jammed, crazy packed."

Driver Kyle Vandermeyden said he didn't even take the Kennedy Tuesday.

"Took 294, avoided it, not sitting in traffic for that much," he said.

Rommel Maradiaga said public transportation saves a headache.

The work and schedule are highly weather dependent, IDOT said. If any overnight work is canceled due to the weather, it will be rescheduled to the first available night that conditions allow.

Overnight closures should wrap up by 5 a.m.

Also, beginning the week of March 11, bridge cleaning, painting and LED light installation at Hubbard's Cave will require closure of the left lane on the inbound Kennedy from Chicago Avenue to Lake Street and on the outbound Kennedy from the Jane Byrne Interchange to Grand Avenue, IDOT said.

The westbound Randolph Street ramp to the outbound Kennedy will close and is anticipated to reopen later this fall. During that time, motorists should follow the posted detour. Drivers also should expect various overnight shoulder and intermittent lane closures in both directions of the expressway, between Milwaukee Avenue and Randolph Street.

IDOT said this year's work is anticipated to be completed later this fall, with efforts shifting to the outbound Kennedy through Hubbard's Cave in 2025.

IDOT recommends traveling during non-peak hours and utilizing mass transit and using the Chicago Transit Authority's Blue Line and Metra's Union Pacific Northwest Line, in particular, as well as Pace.

There are a total of three phases to the plan. Phase two is expected to end by fall 2024.

The plan is to complete the entire project by 2025.

All three years of the Kennedy project have included bridge work, joint reconstruction and pavement patching.

What makes this year's project different is a complete overhaul of the reversible gate system: something that hasn't been done since the mid-1990s.

Here's how the Kennedy reversibles are being brought into the 21st century.

"It's gonna be more reliable, easier to maintain. We're upgrading the camera system; we're installing 80 cameras up and down the expressway. Everything will just be to the 21st century," said Robert Bearden, IDOT resident engineer. "A lot of the equipment that's currently being used is obsolete, so you can't buy it off the shelf anymore. It has got to be specially manufactured."

Crews will also replace 117 gates, along with the restraining barriers -- a special barrier that will stop a car if it enters the reversibles going the wrong way.

The fiber network they're replacing runs to the Comm Center in Schaumburg.

This is where dispatchers communicate with IDOT's Emergency Traffic Patrol to keep the expressways clear of crashes and other incidents. This is also where the Kennedy reversibles are managed, switching from inbound in the morning to outbound in the afternoon. Computers and electrical systems will be upgraded at the Comm Center, too.

"Something that's 30 years old, the equivalent of an appliance or something, there's gonna be a lot of glitches. Weather can have an adverse affect, obviously. When we have really cold weather, it can have significant impact on the devices that have been out there for quite a long time," IDOT Comm Center Supervisor Andy Thompson said.

All the upgrades and changes to the reversibles will not look any different to drivers, but they will operate differently, more reliably and more safely.

Construction schedule

Monday, March 11

  • The inbound Kennedy and Edens were reduced to one lane from just before the Edens junction to Irving Park Road (Illinois 19).
  • At the same time, the reversible express lanes closed. They are anticipated to reopen in late fall.
  • The following intermittent ramp closures also took place: inbound Edens: Wilson Avenue; inbound Kennedy: Montrose Avenue and Irving Park Road

Tuesday, March 12

  • Starting at 9 p.m., the outbound Kennedy will be reduced to two lanes between North (Illinois 64) and Fullerton avenues.
  • At the same time, outbound Kennedy intermittent ramp closures between North and Fullerton avenues also will take place.

Wednesday, March 13

  • Starting at 9 p.m., the inbound Kennedy will gradually be reduced to one lane from Milwaukee Avenue to Lake Street.
  • At the same time, the outbound Kennedy between Madison Street and Milwaukee Avenue also will be reduced to one lane.

Thursday, March 14

  • Starting at 9 p.m., the outbound Kennedy will gradually be reduced to one lane between North and Fullerton avenues.
  • At the same time, intermittent outbound Kennedy ramp closures between North and Fullerton avenues will also take place.