Chicago braces for winter with new evacuation plan

CDOT is building emergency escape routes on Lake Shore Drive to prevent motorists from getting stuck during extreme weather

November 02, 2011

The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) does not want a repeat of last winter’s nightmare, when hundreds of vehicles were stranded for hours on Lake Shore Drive during a record snowstorm Feb. 1-2, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Work has begun on an emergency escape route that will allow drivers to evacuate the roadway in the event of extreme weather.

The project involves installing two openings in the median at Armitage Avenue and Schiller Street, CDOT said.

The openings, using movable concrete barrier sections, will provide emergency-only turnaround access to northbound and southbound lanes of Lake Shore Drive.

The median will remain closed except in extreme weather or other emergencies; then the median will be opened by moving the barriers with heavy trucks.

During construction, the inside lanes of Lake Shore Drive between Armitage and Goethe Street will be closed in both directions, CDOT said. Three lanes will have southbound and northbound access.

Armitage and Schiller were selected for median opening locations because they are prone to snow drifting and have limited emergency access, CDOT officials said.

Hundreds of vehicles were stranded on Lake Shore Drive during the record snowstorm earlier this year, when several feet of snow were dumped on the Chicago area in a matter of hours. The emergency rescue process was slow and the escape options limited for drivers on Lake Shore Drive, according to a city analysis of the 100-year blizzard. Some automobile drivers and bus passengers who huddled in their respective vehicles for many hours later said they felt like they were left for dead, according to the Tribune.

In response, the city of Chicago implemented some new protocols. These included developing a coordinated plan to close Lake Shore Drive to traffic early and evacuate all vehicles if threatening conditions are expected. Under a quick-response scenario, the two median openings on North Lake Shore Drive would enable buses, cars and emergency vehicles to turn around, officials said.

Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) buses will be routed away from and off the road as severe conditions develop.

The implemented recommendations also included a more effective citywide notification distribution list, recognizing that the success of an emergency action plan relies heavily on how quickly accurate information is communicated.

Construction should be completed by late November, CDOT said.

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