WEB EXCLUSIVE: Illinois Region Report

April 3, 2017

A look at the status of road and bridge construction in the Prairie State, including some major bridgework investment, automated freight focus and a developing P3 project

Back in August 2016, the editorial staff of Roads & Bridges covered the progress of Chicago’s Jane Byrne Interchange reconstruction project. One of the signature accomplishments over the last year for the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) was the completion of the westbound flyover bridge over the Jane Byrne, which carries northbound I-90/94 traffic over to merge with westbound I-290 commuters emerging from Congress Parkway and downtown Chicago. In 2017, IDOT has more work in store for this infamously congested interchange.

“This year we’re going to be taking down the old ramp that held that movement, as well as building the remainder of I-290 outbound pavement where that ramp lands,” IDOT Engineer of Operations Steve Travia told Roads & Bridges. “We’ve got the nice new bridge up in the air, but we need to build some westbound I-290 lanes to receive the second lane of that, which will clean that up a lot.”

Building bridges

In addition the Byrne, the Land of Lincoln has a variety of major construction work in store for the next few years, as well as a considerable amount of progress under its belt on key road and bridge projects. Illinois Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn says the federal FAST Act did help to increase the state’s transportation construction funding, which is expected to go up in the next year.

“We had about a 10% increase [in the budget], roughly a $200 million increase in what we will announce as our program for fiscal year 2018,” Secretary Blankenhorn told Roads & Bridges. “That $200 million is almost entirely going into our major bridge program—we’re doubling the size of it.”

The secretary pointed to work expected to begin this year on a new I-74 bridge in the Quad Cities, a region of four principal cities that includes Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa, and Rock Island and Moline in Illinois. IDOT is partnering with Iowa to complete what is to be one of the largest bridge projects in the state’s history.

Blankenhorn emphasized that work needs to continue to be devoted to the state’s bridges. “We have a lot of river bridges, a lot of bridges with our neighbors that we need to be focused on,” he said. In particular, he added, investing in and addressing issues with structurally deficient bridges is going to be a priority for the state.

Other projects around the state also are making progress with new bridges. In the past year, progress continued on the reconstruction of the ramp system linking the I-55 Stevenson Expressway with Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. The project is continuing this year, with outbound traffic being taken off the existing bridges in its current stage. Eventually, the project will get traffic in both directions on new, multi-lane bridges. “The point of moving this project forward was that those old bridges had suffered significant deck failures,” Travia said. “And we were losing active lanes of traffic on a weekly basis.” Work on I-55/Lake Shore Drive should be complete by the end of 2017.

Farther southeast of where the Quad Cities bridge project will begin, a widening and reconstruction of I-74 in Morton and Tazewell County also came to completion. The project involved adding a lane in each direction, modernizing the interchange with I-155 into a safer configuration, and improving the entrance and exit ramps at Morton Avenue.

IDOT is planning on making the I-55 Managed Lanes project a public-private partnership

Trying new things

The state is currently pursuing a public-private partnership (P3) to deliver the I-55 Managed Lanes project. The P3 project would add an express tolling lane in both directions to one of the busiest corridors in Illinois. With construction expected to begin as early as 2018, the project would be one of the first of its kind for the state. Design plans were approved in November 2016, and the project awaits approval from the General Assembly.

A major concern for IDOT is the safety of the traveling public. “We had over 1,000 [traffic-related] fatalities last year in Illinois for the first time in over a decade,” Blankenhorn said. A particular safety concern addressed over the past year is traffic safety in work zones. According to Blankenhorn, a few strategies implemented last year were effective in improving work-zone safety, including placing variable speed signs in work zones, and sending out state police to patrol traffic at both the beginning and end of work zones to track motorist speeds.

A more recent endeavor for IDOT is focusing on automated-vehicle technologies. “Particularly, we’re interested in automated freight and how that works,” Blankenhorn said. “We’ve been in contact with a number of companies that want to do testing for freight here in Illinois.” He added that the department is trying to think about how to prepare for the future of automated technology, including improving communications to drivers and the freight industry. “We’ve got to get people better information in real time,” he said.

The increased budget has enabled IDOT to make some upgrades to its winter maintenance fleet. Last summer, the department ordered over 400 new trucks to improve its equipment lineup. In addition, according to Blankenhorn, money was dedicated to training teams on pre-treating roads.

Since the state has been lucky enough to experience limited amounts of snow and ice for the past two winters, maintenance workers have been able to dedicate time to things like tree and brush trimming in winter. Those projects become more vital to complete in spring and summer, but the good weather patterns have enabled IDOT maintenance crews to dedicate more time on them. “We’re able to do those things because it’s not snowing,” Travia said.

Click here to learn more information on some of the work IDOT has accomplished in the last year.

About The Author: Bruns is associate editor of Roads & Bridges.

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