CHICAGO — Northbound lanes of Lake Shore Drive headed through downtown Chicago reopened Monday afternoon after crews worked around the clock to reinforce cracked beams in a bridge along the roadway that crosses the Chicago River.
City officials say it took a Herculean effort by several agencies to get traffic moving through the area again. The northbound lanes between Randolph and Grand Avenue had been shut down since Monday afternoon after the discovery of two cracked steel beams used to support the bridge. Shutting down traffic may have averted a tragedy.
Department of Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld said the cracks were first noticed Monday by a crew making traffic signal repairs. She said an unexpected amount of corrosion was discovered, and the cracks in the expansion joints were likely caused by stress from the severe weather we’ve had this month.
"In this case we think the extreme cold created such contraction that it pushed more minor into and extreme situation," Scheinfeld said.
Steel structural supports installed at four locations Monday night can support two to three times the required load of 60,000 vehicles, which officials estimate cross the bridge every day. The city said the supports are a temporary fix, and that a permanent repair will involve the installation of steel reinforcement plates. That work will not start for several weeks.
Lake Shore Drive was just inspected a year and a half ago and was up to code and rated in fair condition. Critics say what happened highlights the long-term neglect of transportation infrastructure.
"There are bridges literally all over the city, all over the state of Illinois, that if people really knew the inspection reports that these bridges got they wouldn't want to drive on them," said Ed Maher, of the International Union of Operating Engineers.
The drive and a few other roadways with this specific design will be thoroughly inspected as well. Scheinfeld said safety is CDOT's first priority, and that drivers should feel confident to use the bridge.
"We would not be opening this roadway unless we felt fully confident that it was safe," Scheinfeld said.