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Work begins on Wells-Wentworth Connector, linking Chinatown, Loop, and The 78

Rendering of the Well-Wentworth Connector.

Correction 9/12/19: I previously misinterpreted a phrase in a press release sent by The 78 developer Related Midwest to mean that the Wells-Wentworth Connector to mean that the road would be a four-lane "stroad." The Chicago Department of Transportation has confirmed that the roadway will instead be a more people-friendly street with two travel lanes, turn lanes at some intersections, and "anticipated parking lanes," which is good news. Apologies for the mix-up; the article has been edited accordingly.

After years of planning, work to realign the dangerous, skewed intersection of Cermak and Wentworth avenues in Chinatown is nearing completion. The redesign will make the junction less confusing for all users, add an additional crosswalk on the east leg of the junction, and create a new plaza at the northeast corner.

Meanwhile construction recently began on the next phase of remaking and extending Wentworth, the Wells-Wentworth Connector, a new street that will link Chinatown, downtown, and The 78, the new megadevelopment slated for 62 acres of vacant land bounded by the Chicago River, Roosevelt Road, Clark Street, and 15th Street.

The new street will include two travel lanes, turn lanes at some intersections, and "anticipated parking lanes," according to the Chicago Department of Transportation. That's a more people friendly design than other new roadways constructed in Chicago in recent years with four travel lanes plus turn lanes, including the rerouting of U.S. 41 by the former U.S. Steel site on the Southeast Side, and the curving Elston Avenue bypass near Fullerton and Damen Avenues.

The Wells-Wentworth connector will include speed tables to facilitate crossing the street and calm traffic a bit. Raised bike lanes on the sidewalks will be separated from the pedestrian zone by landscaping. 140 trees, from ten different species, will be planted between the bike lane and the street, and the new street lighting will include conventional lamps to illuminate the road, plus fancy vertical fixtures to light up the pedestrian zone.

"The city and Related prioritized the pedestrian experience and the [bike lanes] early on in the process, which is evident in the design," said related spokesperson Gretchen Muller. "The Connector is people-friendly and designed to discourage speeding."

The underer-construction plaza at Cermak and Wentworth in Chinatown. Photo: John Greenfield
The underer-construction plaza at the northeast corner of Cermak and Wentworth in Chinatown. Photo: John Greenfield
The underer-construction plaza at Cermak and Wentworth in Chinatown. Photo: John Greenfield

Site Design Group, which helped create the zigzagging, bike-hostile design of the recent makeover of the eastern section of the Chicago Riverwalk, as well as Pilsen Mural Park and Ping Tom Park, is the landscape architect for the Wells Wentworth-Connector.

Related says The 78 will include a five-acre riverfront and a seven-acre public park; public art; residential, retail and restaurant space; office space; and cultural institutions. The Wells-Wentworth Connector is one of several major infrastructure projects in and around The 78, including a new CTA Red Line station (which local alderman Pat Dowell tried to block), relocation of existing Metra tracks and reconstruction of the Chicago River seawall.

“While The 78 will bring economic benefits to all of Chicago, we expect it has the power to transform Chinatown in significant ways,” said Emma Yu, executive director of the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce in a statement. “Chinatown is home to many small and family-owned businesses and the Wells-Wentworth Connector will open up those companies to access from visitors from other neighborhoods and bring additional business growth to our community.”

Related claims The 78 will create over 15,000 trade, construction and professional services jobs and 24,000 new, permanent jobs. The developer says it has formed the Community Inclusion Council, "a trusted group of civic, business and community partners who will focus on diversity and inclusion in hiring and contracting at The 78."

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