NEWS

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April 7, 2006

Hyde Park sees increased traffic from Dan Ryan reconstruction

Major reconstruction of the Dan Ryan Expressway (I-90/94) is in progress, leading to the rerouting of highway traffic to city streets and potential obstacles for Hyde Park travelers.

Mainline construction began last Friday with lane closures reducing the expressway to three lanes in each direction from 13th to 95th Streets, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT).

“A Project That Simply Needs to be Done”

The year-and-a-half-long project aims to widen and reconstruct traffic lanes with new pavement, improve drainage structures, install longer entrance and exit ramps, and add an extra lane in both directions from 47th to 95th Streets.

The wider lanes and new ramps should allow for a longer merge time, according to IDOT spokesperson Mike Claffey. The additional traffic lane will improve access for vehicles entering and exiting the expressway, thereby increasing safety and preventing accidents.

“We think this project is going to be of tremendous benefit to the South Side,” Claffey said. “The Dan Ryan was a crumbling highway, prone to flooding, and not safe to drive on.”

The Dan Ryan accommodated around 150,000 vehicles daily when it was built 40 years ago, but it now serves around 320,000 vehicles.

“It’s a project that simply needs to be done for motorists to travel safely on the expressway,” said IDOT spokesperson Marisa Kollias, calling the Dan Ryan the “busiest and most dangerous expressway in the Chicagoland area.”

In the long term, transportation officials believe the improvements may help traffic flow throughout Chicago. The Dan Ryan’s capacity to handle more traffic may ultimately decrease traffic on city streets, according to Brian Steele, spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Transportation.

The $600 million project consists of two phases, beginning with construction on express lanes that will last until the end of November. The second phase, focusing on local lane construction, will run from March 2007 to the end of 2007.

The lengthening of the ramps entails reducing the number of exits on the Dan Ryan. One such exit to be closed is the 51st Street exit, according to Claffey.

“The long-term plan to have fewer exits on the Dan Ryan is probably going to make 55th Street busier, and I’m worried that the neighborhood will regret not fighting this more,” said James Withrow, one of the vice presidents for the Hyde Park–Kenwood Community Conference (HPKCC).

South Lakeshore Drive, Stony Island Avenue, Ashland Avenue, Cottage Grove Avenue, and Halstead Avenue have been designated as alternate routes for motorists normally using the Dan Ryan Expressway. On some alternate routes, like Stony Island Avenue from 95th to 57th Streets and Cottage Grove Avenue from 95th to 35th Streets, rush hour parking restrictions have been implemented to accommodate the increased traffic flow.

The City of Chicago and IDOT also regulated traffic signal timing along the alternate routes, according to Kollias.

“A Little Early to Tell Effects”

Though many have noticed increased congestion on city streets, it may still be too early in the project to determine the construction’s full effects on city traffic. It could take two to three weeks for traffic patterns to emerge, Steele said.

Increased traffic along alternate routes could make the University less accessible to visitors and commuters.

“The Dan Ryan project could make it take longer to drive to campus, especially from the south,” said Brian Shaw, director of campus transportation and parking services. He added that Stony Island and Cottage Grove Avenues have seen increased traffic.

“However, it is still too soon to tell what the longer-term traffic impact of the project will be,” Shaw said.

Campus maps on the University’s website have been updated to recommend alternative directions to the University, such as taking Lake Shore Drive or Stony Island Avenue, according to Shaw.

Some students who use Lake Shore Drive to travel to the University said that they have yet to notice significant changes in traffic from the construction.

“It hasn’t affected us yet,” said Katie Rahn, a Humanities graduate student, who anticipates conditions to eventually become worse. “We’re waiting for Friday afternoon. It’s supposed to be really bad then.”

Gary Ossewaarde, secretary of the HPKCC, echoed Rahn’s sentiments.

“I think it’s a little early to tell effects, especially since Monday things generally went well,” Ossewaarde said. “Tuesday and Wednesday were progressively worse.”

Motorists may switch to alternate routes at later stages of construction, which would increase traffic on city streets, according to Rudy Nimocks, executive director of U of C Police Department (UCPD). Chicago police and the UCPD will be monitoring the situation, he said.

Nimocks said he noticed longer lines of cars during rush hour and increased towing of cars, but said that the Expressway project has had “no real adverse impact” so far.

“We have seen no extraordinary differences in pedestrian behavior or vehicle tie-ups,” said Nimocks.

The parking restrictions on alternate routes have negative effected some local businesses.

“It [business] is slower, because people can’t get into the store during the day,” said Montanez Gayfield, manager of Harold’s Chicken Shack between 64th and 65th Streets on Cottage Grove Avenue.

Darryl Townson, manager of DAT Old Fashioned Donuts at 8249 South Cottage Grove, said that parking restrictions would hurt his business, since surrounding shops that do not have their own parking lots will divert patrons to use the one in front of his store.

“Various Alternatives”

Along with alternate routes, the construction has put pressure on the use of mass transit throughout the city.

“On Tuesday morning there was a 5 percent increase in ridership on the Red and Green Lines and a 4 percent increase on the Orange Line,” said CTA spokesperson Ibis Antongiorgi. “On Wednesday morning, Red had a 5 percent increase in ridership, Green an 8 percent increase, and Orange a 2 percent increase.”

CTA officials have responded to concerns over potential overcrowding with added service, especially on the city’s South Side.

“Due to the Dan Ryan construction project, CTA has added articulated [large accordion-style] buses to its South Side express bus routes, including the #6 Jeffery Express,” Antongiorgi said, adding that each bus can carry 20 additional passengers.

The CTA has also waived the Chicago Cards purchasing fee for two more months until May 31, according to a CTA press release.

“We are continuing to closely monitor ridership levels on our South Side service as people experiment with various alternatives,” Antongiorgi said.