IDOT to Waste $43 Million Trying to Relieve Kennedy Congestion

Cumberland at I-90 West HDR
Photo: David Grant

The Illinois Department of Transportation is pulling another bad idea out of its old bag of tricks, proposing to add two traffic lanes on the Kennedy Expressway between Harlem Avenue and Cumberland Avenue. Also included in IDOT’s proposal are modified ramps at Cumberland and a new ramp onto the Tri-State Tollway (I-294).

IDOT’s stated goal is to relieve congestion and reduce crashes, but past experience shows that widening highways will just induce more traffic, while this is hardly a location where spending millions to improve safety is justified. As is typical for IDOT communications, the agency hasn’t released information about the severity of crashes or explained why this stretch should be a priority for spending limited safety dollars.

The project would add a fourth lane of traffic in each direction on the Kennedy, so that drivers entering and exiting the highway don’t interrupt the traffic flow of the other three lanes. In ten years, when the fourth lane fills up with more people driving because of the road’s increased capacity, IDOT could use the same baseless rationale to add a fifth lane.

Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute explained this phenomenon, called “induced demand,” in a 2001 paper [PDF]: “Congestion reaches a point at which it constrains further growth in peak-period trips. If road capacity increases, the number of peak-period trips also increases until congestion again limits further traffic growth.”

According to IDOT’s project newsletter [PDF], Harlem Avenue (at the east end of the project) “is a major traffic generator which contributes to congested conditions.” But it’s the destinations on Harlem that generate a demand for travel, and the options at people’s disposal to reach those destinations that dictate how much car traffic will be generated.

Homes and businesses are some of the destinations that need access via Harlem. Can people easily reach these destinations via transit, or by walking or bicycling? With the Kennedy widening, it will be certainly be easier to drive, adding more car traffic to Harlem. This is turn will slow down buses and make the street less pleasant for biking and walking, in a vicious cycle that harms the most efficient modes for city transportation.

IDOT needs to drop the wasteful, 1950s-era approach and adopt modern transportation management solutions. The agency has not built a single carpool lane in the state. That wasn’t even considered for the Kennedy. Nor was a bus lane, increased Blue Line or bus route capacity, improvements to Blue Line access, or any option besides making more room for the least efficient mode of all.

There’s another opportunity that IDOT isn’t talking about. The Illinois Tollway Authority will be adding “managed lanes” to I-90 on the part under its jurisdiction. This managed lane would be tolled differently than the other lanes, with prices for single-occupancy cars set to ensure that the lane remains uncongested for the buses and carpool vehicles that use it (the exact operations rules haven’t been established or publicized). Why doesn’t IDOT manage congestion in a way that actually helps keep traffic under control, instead of spending millions on projects that increase traffic?

The final flaw in IDOT’s approach is neglecting the full costs of their projects. According to DNAInfo, the construction cost will be approximately $43 million, but the total costs — more roads to maintain, more induced traffic, and additional pollution and noise — were not calculated. Th $43 million figure also excludes the cost of a new flyover that IDOT is planning between I-90 and Cumberland Avenue to eliminate a traffic-slowing lane change.

IDOT’s purported cure for traffic is like curing obesity by loosening your belt. Transportation solutions are diverse, but IDOT’s bag of tricks isn’t, and the agency’s single-minded focus on making room for cars means Chicagoans will have to put up with more traffic and fewer travel options.

A public meeting will be held tomorrow evening at the Holiday Inn Chicago O’Hare, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m, at 5615 N Cumberland Avenue. The public comment period is open until February 27. Email or send a letter to Marie Glynn, P.E., IDOT District 1, 201 West Center Court, Schaumburg, IL 60196.

  • Coolebra

    There’s a lot of good government, so that isn’t the issue, not to mention the lion’s share of IDOT work is completed by highly paid private sector consultant teams.

  • Coolebra

    Yeah, let anarchy prevail.

  • oooBooo

    The good being morally the same as stealing from your neighbor to feed a hungry homeless person. No, hiring politicians and cops and tax collectors as proxies do not change it.

    Hiring one’s private sector friends is just par for the course for government.

  • oooBooo

    Then pay the parasites and like it.

  • Coolebra

    There is such thing as ethical, accountable, and transparent government.

  • Coolebra

    That’s a false choice. It isn’t an either/or.

  • oooBooo

    Pay your ruling class and like it.

  • oooBooo

    No there isn’t. It has never existed and never will. The very nature of the institution prevents if from happening.

    “Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.” – Frederic Bastiat, 1848

  • BlueFairlane

    I’m skimming, so I might have missed it, but one of the significant contributing factors to the east-bound bottleneck I haven’t seen discussed is the toll booth. You have a ramp of 294 merging with the toll-booth lands of 90 that briefly expands to 8 lanes, then merges almost instantly back to two before immediately merging with the open-toll lanes of 90, then merging again with the lanes from 190. This means you have 12 lanes lanes shrinking to three in less than a mile. You could solve part of this problem simply by eliminating the toll booth, perhaps replacing it with toll booths farther up the two highways or by upping the tolls in other locations to balance the revenue.

  • Coolebra


    “Citizens! In all times, two political systems have been in existence, and each may be maintained by good reasons. According to one of them, Government ought to do much, but then it ought to take much. According to the other, this two-fold activity ought to be little felt. We have to choose between these two systems. But as regards the third system, which partakes of both the others, and which consists in exacting everything from Government, without giving it anything, it is chimerical, absurd, childish, contradictory, and dangerous. Those who parade it, for the sake of the pleasure of accusing all governments of weakness, and thus exposing them to your attacks, are only flattering and deceiving you, while they are deceiving themselves.”

    Frederic Bastiat, 1848
    (The conclusion of the essay from which you selected your quote)

    Not such an indictment of government from a guy writing one generation removed from the French Revolution.

  • Coolebra

  • oooBooo

    You’re clearly not understanding.
    Read the entire thing, a few times if you need to.

  • Coolebra

    Being against the undue influence of government or the perversion of law is really no different than arguing against corrupted capitalism.

    Arguing against a corrupted or perverted version of a good or necessary thing is quite unlike arguing against the thing in its perfect and intended form.

    Therein lies the inherent flaw in Bastiat’s work: He was unable to apply his criticisms of government to the free market and produce a balanced, well-reasoned analysis, though his work with economic externalities is notable.

  • oooBooo

    Nice bit of Greenspanish. But this is all a far flung tangent.

    Government remains a tool of wealth transfer and will never be “ethical, accountable, and transparent”. It’s very nature prevents it from being those things.

  • jeff wegerson

    Thanks for the reading. If your view is correct (I didn’t read the details) then it sounds like a reworking along the lines of how they reworked the Kennedy coming into downtown by scaring people off the two right lines and onto the three left lanes by telling them the two right lanes were exit only like a mile before the actual fact.

    It has done wonders for the limited times and occasions that I use the Kennedy to go from Webster and then down to the circle and then west on the Ike. People dutifully get out of those lanes way ahead if they will not be exiting downtown or onto the Ike. It caused a driver like me who is not afraid to merge right at the last minute to no longer stay in the fastest left lane. Now I dutifully go to the right lane early because it moves so efficiently. Therefore I have changed from being part of the problem (last minute merger) to being part of the solution (getting into the lane I belong early.)

  • jeff wegerson

    He’s an ideologue who’s worldview cannot admit of collective benefits.

  • oooBooo

    The big fix there IMO was not having the left lane that the left side ramps feed into end. That caused all sorts of problems. Left hand ramp and then lane ends. That messed up flow for the whole road.

  • Jonny_O

    This reminds me of the Hillside Strangler “fix”. How could anyone not see that all it would accomplish is to push the point of congestion a mile eastward? It’s the same thing here! A lane reduction is a lane reduction; there’s no way to gloss over that fact.

  • KevinKillion

    You’re missing the point. Pretty obviously the whole purpose is to keep politically connected road construction companies and their union legions fully employed. Keep the cycle going a few more years at least until the whole state goes into crashing bankruptcy!

  • matt mcclure

    Keep your anti-labor comments to yourself.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Hey folks, let’s keep the comments relevant and civil. Thanks.

  • matt mcclure

    Agreed. No reason to bash labor to promote one’s personal or political POV.


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