IDOT Is Considering Adding Four New Car Lanes Lanes to I-55

Traffic on the Stevenson Expressway. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers
Traffic on the Stevenson Expressway. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

The Illinois Department of Transportation is now considering widening the I-55, the Stevenson Expressway in Chicago, with two new lanes in each direction, after it had previously proposed and studied the addition of one lane in each direction. All additional lanes would be “managed” lanes, meaning that they would have policies and technology applied to manage the maximum traffic congestion allowed in them.

In an email last week, and on the website dedicated to the project, IDOT said that it is now going to study adding two lanes in each direction and plans to host a public meeting on December 6, from 4 to 7 p.m., at Toyota Park in Bridgeview.

Managing congestion is possible by charging a toll during peak periods, and adjusting the toll depending on the level of demand to use the less-congested lanes. In many cases where managed lanes are used – typically called HOT, or high occupancy toll lanes – drivers who have one or more passengers, and buses, are exempted from paying the toll.

The Active Transportation Alliance came out against the highway widening nearly two years ago. Essentially, you can take their same statement and change the phrasing from “at least one lane in each direction” to “two lanes in each direction” and the problems with the project are the same: “Adding more lanes for cars — be they conventional, car pool or tolled lanes — only exacerbates traffic congestion in the long run while making non-auto options less viable.”

IDOT still has no funding for the project and is looking for a company to partner with to construct it and get paid back via toll revenues. Tell IDOT what you think at the meeting or via a comment form.

  • James Bell

    WOW! I can’t believe I am even reading this. The State of Illinois wants to actually do something intelligent? I can’t believe it. It’s about time IDOT begin looking at ALL the roadways around the Chicago area which have what was a great city back in the 1960s and prior to release the stranglehold that our roadways plague this area with. People always want to throw the induced demand crapola up as soon as they hear about widening roadways, but lets face it folks, people are NOT going to walk to work when they work in the Loop and live in Hinsdale and sorry, most families do NOT want to raise their family in the city of Chicago. Chicago is great for yuppies and singles, but not ideal for families. That being said, where would I move my family to if I were going to raise one? Hmmmm, the burbs? Where am I going to work to afford all the luxuries kids demand? Downtown. Downtown jobs just pay better it’s a no brainer. Do I want to ride the train? H3LL NO! If I can’t drive there then the heck with it, I’ll go somewhere else. Sorry, but it’s true and that is the case with employers too. What company is going to want to move into a city where all the roads are clogged with cars? Last time I checked, products companies usually manufacture are moved by truck, not someone taking them up to the EL or on the CTA bus with them. Look at the Stevie and Edens and Ike. Totally HORRIBLE! All 3 completely stopped pretty much all day and only getting worse year by year. If I were a company owner you know where a company goes into business to make a profit, not just hire people like the democrat mindset usually leads them to think, would I want my trucks sitting stuck in traffic trying to get to me or my clients or do I want them moving? Obviously time is money so I want my goods moving, not stopped in traffic so what do I do? I move my company OUT of the Chicago area with its horse $h!T roads from the 1960s and move somewhere where the traffic moves like the Dallas metro plex which is exploding with growth nearly to the point that cities in China are growing at. IDOT needs to do something to get the express…pffff more like slowways moving again. NOBODY, businesses, government entities, academic, citizens want to be stuck in traffic that is stop and go. That costs EVERYBODY money and time. I suggest IDOT visit San Diego and Santa Ana and take a look at what Cal Trans did with the 15 and the 5 (Santa Ana Freeway) to alleviate congestion and mirror that here. Both of those two freeways now are modern marvels of incredible engineering and people FLY on both of them. The average speed…AVERAGE when you tune in The Weather Channel where they show the traffic reports during your local weather and show the traffic conditions, is usually around 75-80 mph. That means many people are even moving faster than that and that is during rush-hour. Imagine being able to leave the Loop and fly out to Willowbrook exiting at 83 doing 75 mph the entire way! You’d be there in about 30 minutes. Imagine how much more time you could spend with your kids or loved one from that extra 30 minutes each way per day not being wasted stuck in traffic due to out-dated roads. Imagine that.

  • Tooscrapps

    Now that Illinois has finally has a dedicated funding source for transportation via the Lockbox Ammenedment, we get to watch IDOT blow it on highway widening instead of fix-it-first and transit improvements.

  • F. Hayek 69

    “Adding more lanes for cars — be they conventional, car pool or tolled lanes — only exacerbates traffic congestion in the long run while making non-auto options less viable.”

    More people get to use the highway, which is a good thing. Non auto options are unaffected since this is a highway.

  • Tooscrapps

    You cannot widen your way out of congestion.

    Money that is spent on highway widening could be used for other projects (fixing roads, transit, grade separations). This is IDOT not the Tollway Authority. They more options as to how to spend their capital budgets.

  • Jim Bell

    And of course there goes the induced demand whining again. What part of Chicago needs to be competitive in the global marketplace do people not understand. Having everyone; trucks, busses, cars all stop and go all the way down the expressway is only a MAJOR black eye for the entire city leading large business such as Amazon who Emmanuel wants to lure here to look at other more modern cities such as Dallas and Houston. Get off the mass transit kick, it doesn’t work. People won’t ride it. Sorry! This isn’t London where mass transit such as the tube are in heavy use. People here love their cars and besides that, freight doesn’t move via bus or EL train, it moves via truck and trucks stuck in traffic cost EVERYONE money. It’s about time IDOT do something to modernize the roads here which are right out of the 1960s. That’s the last time anything was done to alter the design of the Stevenson, Edens, and Eisenhower. The 1960s! That’s pathetic! Typical of Illinois. Explains the mass exodus out of Illinois. Illinois was what? The slowest growth in population out of any of the states or close to it. That’s just plain sad.

  • F. Hayek 69

    More people getting to use the road would be a success, regardless if travel times are unchanged. Total miles traveled would be increased.

  • Jim Bell

    That’s like saying a 1″ hose can handle just as much water flow as a 2″ hose. Get a clue.

  • Tooscrapps

    No it’s saying that if you take a completely full 1″ hose and change to 2″ hose and then increase the water flow, you still have a 100% full hose.

    Not only that, but the other hoses it’s connected to don’t get any bigger, so then all that water just backs up.

  • Jeremy

    “Get off the mass transit kick, it doesn’t work. People won’t ride it.”

    There are millions of rides every year on CTA and Metra.

    Motorola, Kraft, and Boeing have opened offices downtown. McDonald’s is going to move from the suburbs to the city.

    If you like freight being moved by trucks, you should want fewer cars on the road. It is more expensive to build highways than transit. Texas keeps expanding their highways, and they keep getting more congested. The Dallas mayor is trying to expand public transit.

  • Tooscrapps

    But it’s tolled.

    “Sounds like your advocating for separate (lanes) based on income”.

  • Jim Bell

    Mass transit that less than 30% of the population in the metro area will use. Makes sense to me. Fix something people aren’t using. That’s that lovely Democrat logic. If something isn’t working or failing, pour more money into it. Then when that fails, pour more money into it. Then there is the other lovely Democrat logic that just played out here this year, we will punish those for doing something we don’t like like ooooooh DRINKING SODA. What happened? People just started buying elsewhere, they didn’t stop drinking it. Explains why Houston is about to become the 3rd largest city in the US when Chicago only 40 years ago was number 2 hence its name, second city.

  • ardecila

    I wonder why the increase from one lane to two? The original Stevenson reconstruction included provisions for a fourth lane in the median (bridge piers, foundations already in place, no new retaining walls, etc). A fourth lane, be it a regular lane or a managed one, could be added at reasonable cost. A fifth lane would get very expensive, though.

  • Tooscrapps

    In another comment, you said our roads are failing, and here you want to pour more money into them.

  • Random_Jerk

    One lane of train/subway is 100 times more efficient in terms of moving people as 1 lane of highway. Maybe you should get a clue. Mass transit is the long term solution that works. I would rather have nice modern trains that run often and on time, than an additional lane of highway that is going to be congested anyway.

  • Jim Bell

    Because they are actually using their heads and planning ahead.

  • Jim Bell

    Our roads are NOT failing they are JAMMED with users. I see our Metra coming and going right by my house in Orland Park and usually it is about half full. Makes sense to me to pour more money into that type of stuff while 55 is beyond jammed. Again, this is proven over and over and over, you increase mass transit in America and people won’t use it, people here want to be in their cars and if they can’t do that then they will move elsewhere.

  • Tooscrapps

    Houston, a “modern city”:
    – Metro area population is still 3M behind Chicago
    – Has 2.6x the area of Chicago
    – Unchecked sprawl and poor land use policy has exacerbated flooding and the damage it causes to homes and businesses
    – Widened the Katy Expressway to 23 lanes only to see commute times increase:
    – #16 is US air polution (Chicago isn’t in the top 50)

    A true Utopia.

  • Jim Bell

    Mass transit may be more efficient however again, people WON’T USE IT! People here love their cars. What happened when gas went up to $4 a gallon? Did people stop driving and using mass transit? No, everybody just cut back on everything else helping fuel the collapse of the economy in 08.

  • Random_Jerk

    Chicago population is over 3x denser than Houston and it’s getting denser each year. Houston is just sprawling out making the commuting further and further. Not very sustainable solution. See L.A.

  • Tooscrapps

    Based on the latest Metra data, all of the stations before and including Orland Park (5 of the 12 stations on the SWS) only make up 30% of the inbound Metra boardings.

    So if it’s half full, looks like the other half is filling it up at the stations past Orland Park.

  • Random_Jerk

    If you make it clean, convenient, safe, on time, more people will use it. Tons of people use it in Chicago. I don’t know where you are from, you seem to be enjoying wasting your life in traffic…

  • Tooscrapps

    SW Suburbs: a bastion of smart urban planning.

  • BlueFairlane

    Here are two statistics that I think are germane to this conversation:

    1. Total vehicle miles traveled adjusted for population dropped about 9% between 2005 and 2014, the start of the fall roughly coinciding with $4 gas.

    2. 28.6% of your comments since the creation of your account are on this one article.

  • preppyboyofIL

    This is really a no brainer, more lanes will accommodate more traffic and I feel this is a great idea. I work in the city for a waste management firm and occasionally have to take clients out to either other job sites and lunches, and from what I am seeing, which I expect from the car haters which Chicago is loaded with, I am supposed to tell my clients, “Ok now, we are going to walk 3 blocks in the rain, snow, sleet, 20 degree weather, hurricane force winds, etc or whatever else Chicago’s wonderful weather throws at us, and tell my clients, we are going to walk to the EL where we are going to take that out as far as it will go, where once we get to the end of the line, we will then have to walk (Through some of Chicago’s finest of neighborhoods, you know the one’s with the bullet holes and boarded up windows), to your job site so I can come up with a plan for how your waste needs will be met.” They’d think I am nuts. Yet, every time I take that Stevie to a job site it is stopped and clients from out of state all say the same thing with that look of confusion on their face, ” Is this thing always like this? They need to do something here” YAAAAA DUHHH no kidding.

    Personally I don’t know ANYONE who sits there and says, “More lanes on the Stevie for me??? Heck ya, I’m going cruising!” Who does that? People are not out joyriding the expressway systems, this isn’t 1982 where gasoline was 50 cents a gallon, and it was “Cool” to do so. People are using the expressway system around ANY city as a safe means to get from point A to point B. Recently I saw on the news that I believe it was the Stevenson last spring when Rauner wanted to do something with 55, that 55 in Cook County was averaging an accident every 3 hours at this point and only getting worse. That is a sure sign something needs to get done.

    City of Chicago CTA, local municipalities, PACE, and Metra, have all tackled the idea of mass transit and have done as good as they can IMO, (I mean after all, you are not going to see high-speed rail in a large urban area in the US thanks to all the lawsuits, and the NIMBY syndrome that plagues the entire country) so those transit authorities have done what they could to encourage mass transit use, and surprise surprise, pretty much nobody uses it. Nobody meaning in terms of large scale. It was shown in a recent survey done by IDOT a few years back when they were looking at how to improve traffic flow on Cicero and Harlem Avenues that less than 1% of people surveyed were using some sort of mass transit and when asked if more mass transit options were available would you use it? The answers came back at again, less than 1%. All that being said, anyone that wants to look to a city with the best mass transit in the country, needs to venture to NYC.

    The MTA has done everything they could there to help aid NYDOT in their traffic woes and again, all the improvements city-wide have led to basically a plateaued ridership. Ridership is basically is the same as the day they started improving their system. Another thing I want to bring up about NYC’s mass transit is they have trains that go burb to burb. For instance, if you want to go from Great Neck or Hicksville to Jamaica or Rockville Centre, you can do it without having to go into Penn Station first. If I want to go from Oak Lawn to Naperville, I have to first go into the city only to come right back out into the burbs. Then regardless of if Metra was to create a line going burb to burb, what would you do once you got there? Walk 5 miles, after all this isn’t Long Island with cabs everywhere just waiting to pick you up? I guess there is UBER but again you are getting more into a real PITA.

    Which is one more likely to do? Go through all that listed above which will take them around 3 hours to complete one trip in each direction after for instance; I drive to the station in Oak Lawn, find parking, wait for the train, ride into the Loop, wait for the next train out to Naperville, ride to Naperville, once there wait for my UBER, and take my UBER to my destination. 3 hours minimum. NOBODY is going to do that unless they; a. don’t drive, b. don’t have anything else to do, c. have no job. All that presented, mass transit is an effort to aid in the reduction of cars un-neccesarily on any roadway but not the sole solution.

    IDOT is using its head in this approach in the fact that these are to be tolled lanes, so for those of you who are saying, “The money should be spent elsewhere, not on widening roads” You are missing the very fact that this is a new tollway being built in the center of the Stevenson. It’s brilliant actually! The tollroad will pay for itself in no time and begin netting a profit for the state TO spend more money on mass transit like car haters want. For the car haters out there, you know the one’s I see on here attacking anyone who is for widening this, with the attitude of, “leave them stuck in traffic have them take the train” you have totally missed the state’s point. They are not widening this because more people took to the road just to take to the road, they are widening this because when it was built Plainfield for instance had a population of less than 5,000 and Orland Park to the south was still nothing but pig farms and corn where today alone it has a population of 60,000. The roadway is operating well beyond its design capacity and is unsafe.

    (Here comes the sprawl attack) For those that are going to bring up about sprawl, the sprawl was inevitable, people move around, and most of what is in towns in the lets just say west of Cicero grew because towns east of there became like war zones and people raising families didn’t want to live there anymore so they keep moving west like a wave. This has been the case in the Chicago area since the 1930s. I will leave race names out, but as one race moves into the area, the existing one throws the for sale signs up all the way down the block and property values plummet and that existing race flees for greener pastures so to say. It has happened time and time again in pretty much every neighborhood south of 55. Much of what is living in Orland and Tinley today has roots to Roseland, Marquette Park, and areas like that where today you couldn’t imaging seeing that person in those areas willingly. All that said, populations move around and have moved in a line right down 55 basically. What are we supposed to do? Do nothing to punish people for wanting to live and raise their family in a nice safe town like Lemont or Palos Park? If so then you are the problem here not the solution.

    All this being said, I commend the state on finally coming up with a fiscally responsible solution to alleviating congestion. More lanes will be able to accommodate more cars, and sorry for you car haters out there, automobiles aren’t going anywhere anytime soon and purposely keeping everyone stuck in traffic to “teach them a lesson” so to say is just absurd, but that is what you are saying here when you attack the state for wanting to do something to keep what is still America’s number 1 choice of transit moving.

  • Jacob Wilson

    Is this satire?

  • ardecila

    Also (not to get too OT) Southwest Service has a limited schedule because of severe rail congestion at 79th St and limited slots at Union Station. Heritage Corridor has similar issues. It could have higher ridership if Metra/IDOT invested to improve service, but instead people either drive to their destination or drive to the Rock Island (esp at off-peak times).

  • Guy Ross

    1) please try to stay civil
    2) when I lived in Bucktown in the 90’s before it went full hipster, I would leave either before 7:30 or after 9 so I would be sure to catch an in-bound train that I could squeeze through the doors into. I still have friends there, ridership has exploded since then
    3) Ever ridden the METRA in the past decade? I wish your rant was true. I could use the extra room!
    4) Jim hating trains and buses does not mean Bob hates trains and buses.
    5) Chicago’s warehousing and industry are on a train spur or waterway. If you make trucks pay for gas, those train lines will fill up again.
    6) Induced demand is real as evidenced by multiple surveys and studies.
    7) People in LA love their cars too. They love their urban highways too. Ever driven through LA? You see that as the solution? OOF!

  • Sterling Archer

    Having a great mass transit system is one of the only ways we have any shot at landing Amazon in the first place. You also state they haven’t widened any of the major express ways since the 1960s but point out that we have lost population. If there are now less people than why do we need more roads to support a smaller population?

  • David Henri

    Jim, it appears that you are the one who needs to get a clue.

  • Brian Sheehan

    If there’s a silver lining to this project (if implemented), it seems to me that this added capacity could be used to justify adding bike infrastructure to the one road that roughly parallels the Stevenson’s portion east of Harlem Avenue (Archer).

    The managed lanes would actually end in the vicinity of the SW-most point at which bike lanes exist on Archer (Throop Street), for what it’s worth.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Let’s keep the conversation civil folks. Thanks.

  • FlamingoFresh

    IDOT should just save their money by converting an existing lane to an HOT lane. Force users to pay for the roads they use if they want faster travel time. If they don’t want to pay then they can get out of their vehicles and use another mode of transportation. Thus alleviating the existing roadway infrastructure of traffic.

  • Anne A

    Something that people aren’t using? Not the case for transit here.

  • ardecila

    Setting ideology aside, planners are advancing the case (as in last week’s Crains article) that the Stevenson project and the Eisenhower widening are fundamentally linked; they need the new capacity to come online on the Stevenson before the Eisenhower work can begin. Possibly this is why they’re advocating for two new lanes instead of one.

    To me, it seems foolish to build permanent infrastructure to address a temporary need, especially when the city is NOT planning for more cars entering the Central Area. Maybe the Stevenson could merely be re-striped for four (narrower) lanes?


What if We Converted Lanes on I-55 Instead of Building New Ones?

As Chicago transportation experts have pointed out, there are some positive aspects to Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s plan to use public-private partnership funding to widen 25 miles of the Stevenson Expressway, aka I-55, and then manage congestion on the new lanes via variable tolls. However, a much smarter approach to dealing with highway congestion may […]

IDOT to Waste $43 Million Trying to Relieve Kennedy Congestion

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 […]