Kennedy construction begins

“Carmageddon” has begun.

As 11 p.m. approached (on Friday the 13th, no less), steady traffic still flowed along the Kennedy Expressway even as workers prepared to close a downtown section of the road to begin a massive bridge replacement project. As midnight approached, inbound traffic started becoming constricted near the constriction site.

As of 5:30 a.m., traffic was slowing – but still steadily moving – on the Kennedy around Ogden Ave. as cars were directed off the Expressway. At about the same time, there was no abnormal traffic on Western Ave., a designated alternate route around the closed lanes.

Illinois State Police detailed troopers near the construction site to deal with any traffic crashes or other incidents that might arise from the closures.

The demolition will require closing the Kennedy’s inbound and reversible express lanes from about 1 mile before Ohio Street until the Hubbard’s Cave tunnel this weekend. All inbound traffic will be squeezed into two 15 mph temporary lanes that will be built to accommodate the detour, IDOT said.

Work to tear down sections of the bridge, drop the concrete pieces onto the expressway and haul away the debris is scheduled for a series of tightly-choreographed 55-hour periods on the weekends of June 13-15, June 20-22 and June 27-29, according to IDOT plans.

Officials for weeks have been urging motorists to avoid the Kennedy during the weekend-only work.

Late Friday, a fleet of at least 10 backhoes and pieces of heavy equipment parked near the site, ready to break down the bridge and haul away its debris. A big rig truck, loaded with concrete barriers meant to protect electrical equipment at the site, moved into position while a backhoe, fitted with a massive pneumatic hammer, prepared for destruction.

The most dramatic work wasn’t scheduled to begin until around 2 a.m. Saturday, workers at the site said.

Officials warn of gridlock that could stretch as far as O’Hare International Airport, if anything near the average 260,000 vehicles that drive the Kennedy on a daily basis use the route to reach weekend activities through the end of the month.

For trips within the city, Western Avenue and other north-south streets, including Lake Shore Drive, are recommended alternatives. IDOT is asking drivers headed to Indiana or Wisconsin, or returning from the neighboring states, to use I-80, I-39 and I-294.

Metra and the CTA are running longer trains to accommodate heavy loads of passengers. The CTA is also augmenting service on bus routes serving downtown Metra stations and is detouring buses off portions of Milwaukee and Grand avenues, officials said.

IDOT said the Kennedy lanes will be fully reopened before the start of each rush period on Monday mornings.

By Juan Perez Jr.

Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC

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