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CHICAGO — While some people have started to adjust to the longer commutes and delays on the Kennedy Expressway due to the construction, some people have found different ways to commute as the years-long project gets started.

Greg Maruquz said his old 45-minute commute from Elgin to Bucktown has skyrocketed since the Kennedy Expressway construction started in March.

“We’re looking at a good hour and 20, hour and 10… an hour and 30 on a bad day, like if it rains,” Marquez said.

He leaves home a half hour earlier and is even trying side streets to beat the traffic.

“In the last six weeks or so, I’ve taken any number of strange routes that I didn’t even know existed to my office,” he said. “At the end of the day has it made any difference? Maybe a little because everyone’s doing the same thing.”

Unfortunately for him and other drivers, it’s not a short-term inconvenience.

Ahead lies three years of lane closures.

“That’s being optimistic,” Marquez said. “They can’t control the weather. They can’t control unforeseen conditions and it could extend that. Could be looking at four years, five, who knows.”

It’s a fair concern for Chicago drivers, who just finished dealing with the Jane Byrne Interchange Project, which infamously went from being a four-year project to a nine-year project.

How long will construction on the Kennedy Expressway last?

Jon Schumacher with the Illinois Department of Transportation said the Kennedy project is different.

He believes the three-year timeframe is realistic.

“It’s a rehabilitation project, less intrusive scope of work,” he said. “There’s a lot more that we know about the project. So not that unknown about what’s underground and finding a utility that’s not supposed to be there or a freight tunnel or the soil conditions.”

Crews are rehabilitating the Kennedy’s bridge decks between Montrose and Ohio.

“The contractor removes the existing surface that’s all potholed and they get all that loose concrete off of there and then we put down a new latex concrete surface on top,” Schumacher said.

The goal is to fix the bridge decks now to avoid bigger problems, like what we’ve seen at Interstate 55 and Route 53 in Bolingbrook, causing unplanned emergency closures.

The plan with the Kennedy is to work on the inbound side this year, the express lanes next year and the outbound lanes in 2025.

In the meantime, major alternatives are also under construction.

The Illinois Tollway is working on Interstate 294 and the Chicago Department of Transportation is resurfacing DuSable Lake Shore Drive.

“We meet with all the other organizations to try to coordinate work so we know what they have coming up,” Schumacher said. “They know what we have coming up. A lot of it is also how long does infrastructure last? Sometimes you’re forced, your hand is forced.”

Metra sees increase in ridership due to Kennedy Expressway construction

FILE: A Metra commuter train operated by Illinois’ Regional Transportation Authority travels to downtown Chicago over Kennedy Expressway on Interstate 90 and 94 Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

Michael Gillis with Metra said the transit agency is hoping this is an opportunity to prove itself as a viable alternative to driving.

It’s been struggling to lure commuters back post-pandemic. But since the Kennedy construction began, ridership has gone up.

“I think people will continue to come on,” Gillis said. “They’re probably trying the Kennedy and seeing how bad it is and then they’re coming on the Metra and find out that we’re soaring right past them.”

When the pandemic started, Metra cut schedules roughly in half and it’s now building back. Metra is now running around 95% of its pre-pandemic service (658 trains now v. 692), but ridership is just 50-55% of where it was pre-pandemic. 

There are four lines that service the area impacted by the Kennedy construction. Here is some of the data from Metra on the ridership gains those four lines have seen: 

METRA UP-NW saw the biggest gains, handling post-pandemic high of 25,900 passenger trips on Wednesday, April 12, while the average for the six prior Wednesdays was 19,900. That April 12 high represents 65% of the line’s April 2019 (the last year before the pandemic) average weekday ridership. Eight of the line’s top 10 post-pandemic weekdays have occurred since the Kennedy construction began. Metra added service to this line in April and it now has more service than it did before the pandemic. 

METRA MD-N hit a post-pandemic high of 13,200 passenger trips on Tuesday, April 18, vs. an average of 11,700 on the six prior Tuesdays. That April 18 high represents 60% of the line’s April 2019 average weekday ridership. Seven of the line’s top 10 post-pandemic weekdays have occurred since the Kennedy construction began.

METRA NCS hit a post-pandemic high of 2,800 passenger trips on Tuesday, April 25 vs. an average of 2,540 for the six prior Tuesdays. That April 25 high represents 53% of the line’s April 2019 average weekday ridership. Five of the line’s top 10 post-pandemic weekdays have occurred since the Kennedy construction began.

METRA UP-N handled a post-pandemic high of 24,900 passenger trips on Wednesday, April 19, vs. an average of 20,900 for the six prior Wednesdays. That April 19 high represents 71% of the line’s April 2019 average weekday ridership. Five of the line’s top 10 post-pandemic weekdays have occurred since the Kennedy construction began.

Metra says other lines that are not alternates for the Kennedy also saw highs in April, so the construction is not the only influence, but it says it is certainly a big influence.

Metra is currently offering a $100 monthly pass through the end of the year. You can view schedules here and ridership trends here.

CTA & PACE Busses

The CTA is another option for commuters.

The CTA says it has seen a small jump in morning ridership on its Blue Line since the Kennedy construction began. It doesn’t yet know if that’s due directly to the construction or if seasonal ridership increases also play a role. 

The CTA has Park and Ride lots at Cumberland and Rosemont and both garages have available capacity. Drivers can park in the lots for up to 14 hours for $7 and then hop on the CTA Blue Line and take that the rest of the way in.

The CTA recently launched a live video feed to allow commuters to see platform conditions at select Blue Line stations, so they can view how busy it may be at any given time and determine when to travel.

The CTA typically sees heavier ridership demand on the O’Hare branch Blue Line Tuesdays through Thursdays, 6-9:30 a.m. and 3-6 p.m.  Peak ridership is typically between 7:45 a.m. and 8:45 a.m. 

Many Pace routes connect with the UP-NW Line, MD-N Line, and NCS Line as well as the CTA Blue Line at Rosemont, Cumberland, Harlem, and Jefferson Park. To see if Pace is an option that can help in your commute, check out Pace’s Trip Planner.

CTA and Pace have a $30 Regional Connect Pass for Metra Monthly Pass holders that provides unlimited rides all month on CTA and Pace with no day or time restrictions. 

Possible detours to avoid Kennedy Expressway construction

If public transit isn’t a feasible solution for you, the inbound travel times in the express lanes have been lighter on average than the far right lanes.

Also, commuters should try to avoid commuting at peak times. IDOT said the new morning peaking is now about an hour later, around 9:20 a.m.

If adjusting you can adjust your schedule, there are still some options if you’re looking to avoid the Kennedy Expressway construction delays.

You can consider taking North Milwaukee Avenue or North Elston Avenue.

If you are traveling in from the Western Suburbs, you could use the Eisenhower Expressway depending on your route.

How people adjust to road construction projects

Hani Mahmassani, the director of the Northwestern University Transportation Center, said when long-term projects like this start, commuters begin testing their options by using new routes, adjusting their schedules, using public transit or even avoiding the city together.

“When the disruption is long, these alternatives include finding other destinations, cancelations and so on,” Mahmassani said. “So the concern is that the economy and the city is reviving a lot of the businesses that are really trying hard to get workers to go back are facing a situation where the cost is higher for users.”

Travel time data from the Illinois Department of Transportation shows the travel time increased from last year to this year after the construction began. 

Inbound Kennedy: O’Hare to Ohio 

  • 2022: 4/10/2022 – 5/8/2022 (weekdays) 
  • 2023: 4/10/2023 – 5/8/2023 (weekdays) 
Time of day20222023
6 a.m.15 min30 min
7 a.m.26 min41 min
8 a.m.45 min48 min
9 a.m.40 min50 min
10 a.m.25 min55 min
11 a.m.21 min45 min
Noon22 min43 min
1p.m.25 min40 min
3 p.m.40 min32 min
4 p.m.45 min40 min
(Note: Total Traffic Network’s data shows higher travel times than what has been provided by IDOT)

Overnight lane closures for separate project on Kennedy Expressway

On Monday, milling and resurfacing work started and requires overnight lane and some ramp closures in the outbound lanes between Madison and Ohio streets in Chicago.

This is separate from the bridge rehabilitation work.

At least one outbound lane will remain open at all times, IDOT said.

The closures, depending on the weather, are scheduled for the following times.

  • 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Sunday-Thursday
  • 10 p.m. Friday to 8 a.m. Saturday
  • 10 p.m. Saturday to 10 a.m. Sunday

The work is expected to be completed by the end of the summer.