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

Rendering of the Well-Wentworth Connector.
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

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.”

  • Jeremy

    “there will be speed tables to facilitate crossing the street and calm traffic a bit”

    I’ll believe it when I see it. These will likely be nixed before construction due to complaints of hindering traffic flow.

  • Anne A

    I’m looking forward to having a direct, rideable connection from the South Loop to Chinatown. I’ve been seeing the early phases of street construction from the Rock Island. The piece of this that I’m NOT looking forward to is having the Rock Island eventually be in a tunnel. *cough* *cough*

  • ardecila

    Metra’s also talking about electrifying the Rock Island, so you may not have to worry about diesel emissions too long. Also, the force of the train moving through a tunnel (combined with the inevitable exhaust system) should keep the air inside fairly clean… the issues with tunnels are in stations, where the trains idle and emissions build up.

  • ardecila

    Interesting that Wells through the 78 site will be four lanes, but north of Roosevelt and south of 18th, it’s only two lanes. My guess is that once a few buildings open up, they’ll convert the curb lane to parking, but it doesn’t make sense to do that while the whole site is a giant field.

  • Austin Busch

    In all the renderings I can remember, the Metra was still going to be elevated through the site. They always show an enclosure with a ped/bike promenade on top, 15th street going below, and open sidings. I don’t think fumes or even blocked views are going to be an issue.

  • Jeremy

    Adding metered street parking in this site (and Lincoln Yards) is good because it could be added to the parking meter deal. That would reduce future true-up payments and/or allow for meters to be removed elsewhere to build bus lanes, bike lanes, or parklets.

  • Roland Solinski

    No, the plans do call for a tunnel structure. Depending on where you are, the top of the tunnel will either be buildings, pedestrian space, or LaSalle Street. Here’s a similar example from Tulsa (although it was a road tunnel) where they built the structure first and then piled the ground up around it.

  • Courtney Cobbs

    Drooling over that protected bike lane.

  • Ald. Pat Dowell

    I never tried to “block” the Redline Station, just move it to a more appropriate site that would not negatively impact a residential community and local park. We achieved this goal and I support the station where currently sited.

  • Anne A

    Everything I’ve ready that went into any detail about the Rock Island piece of the big picture said that the tracks would be moved and “enclosed.” If you look at the Public Benefits section of the linked page, it says:

    “Relocation and enclosure of Metra tracks to abate noise and protect air quality”

  • Anne A

    I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen. Considering that the 16th St. junction will still exist, according to renderings I’ve seen, the delays it sometimes creates will still exist. Also, inbound Rock Island trains sometimes end up standing waiting for clearance before going into LaSalle St. station. There WILL be times when trains stand in the tunnel.

  • Austin Busch

    Enclosed above ground is very different from tunneling though, as it’s much easier to handle ventilation and much less likely to flood.

    On the plus side, enclosing means a few less track miles on fire in extreme winter.

  • Anne A

    Better ventilated and less likely to flood would be a good thing.

    I don’t believe there are any switches on the section of tracks between Roosevelt and 16th. The switches that require so much TLC in winter weather are north of Roosevelt, and those will still be out in the open.

  • ardecila

    Looks like I was correct about the parking lanes. In fairness to John, the rendering did suggest four traffic lanes, but I guess a rendering with static cars would not be a good illustration of the overall street design and width.

    Hopefully these spaces are not given to LAZ Parking from the get-go, but remain under CDOT control until such time as they can be used for offsets in conjunction with bike lane or bus lane projects.

  • ardecila

    Fair enough, but I believe part of Related’s track relocation plan involves extending the third track to a point south of 16th St, probably around 19th or Archer, which should reduce the conflicts that lead to standing. Long term, the plan is to have a continous third track north of 75th Street.

  • Anne A

    The third track is part of Metra’s long-term plan to shift the Southwest Service from overcrowded Union Station over to LaSalle once the crossover at 75th St. and the continuous third track north of 75th St. are built.


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