This morning, Mayor Rahm Emanuel broke ground on the Fullerton/Damen/Elston reconstruction, which aims to improve safety and reduce delays at one of Chicago’s most crash-prone and congested intersections. In an effort to unclog the intersection, the Chicago Department of Transportation is moving Elston about a block east of the six-way junction and bypassing it through land currently occupied by the Vienna Beef factory, which is relocating to Bridgeport.
While the construction work, which started last night, is currently causing headaches for all road users, the mayor promised that the hassles will be worthwhile in the long run. The project seems to be largely about expediting motorized traffic at an intersection that currently sees about 70,000 vehicles per day, but it also includes a few perks for pedestrians and bicyclists, including a widened sidewalk on Fullerton, and new bike lanes on Elston and Damen.
“We’re beginning construction on something people have… debated and deliberated on, and now we’re finally delivering,” Emanuel said at the press event. He joked that he would like to tell us what drivers have said, usually under their breath, while stuck in traffic at the tangled intersection, which has previously caused delays of up to seven minutes for motorists. “But you’re not allowed to say that near a microphone.”
As of last night, Damen and Elston have been reduced to one lane north of Fullerton to allow for demolition work, closures that will continue through this construction season. This creates a bottleneck for drivers, and a tight squeeze for cyclists who try to share the road with them. “Shared Lane Yield to Bikes” will be posted on Damen and Elston throughout construction. Less confident bike riders may be better off cautiously using the sidewalk on these stretches, which have low pedestrian traffic.
Next month, Fullerton will be reduced to one lane in each direction and will remain that way until Labor Day. In spring of 2016, the new Elston bypass will be opened for use with two mixed-traffic lanes plus curb-protected bike lanes. The entire project, including repaving of all streets in the affected area, is slated for completion by the end of next year.