Will Chicago experience Carmageddon this weekend? - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Will Chicago experience Carmageddon this weekend?

Flickr user VCU CNS (cc).

MPC File Photo

Three years ago, Los Angeles braced for “Carmageddon!” A 10-mile stretch of the 405 Freeway—including two of the nation’s busiest interchanges—was shut down for 53 hours to demolish a bridge as part of a freeway widening project. The prognosis? Due to an extensive media campaign, L.A. survived. Normal traffic on that section of the 405 is 500,000 vehicles on an average weekend, but the much anticipated gridlock on neighboring streets never materialized. In fact, the opposite occurred. Traffic was down 60 percent in the neighboring communities. Many people just stayed home.

This weekend, Chicago faces the first of three weekends of construction work at I-90/94 and Ohio Street. The westbound Ontario St. Bridge over I-90/94 is being demolished. This bridge cannot be disassembled in pieces, but must be removed one unit at a time. 260,000 vehicles travel I-90/94 each day.

Chicago is a busy place for events in the summer, and this upcoming weekend is no exception. Activities occurring in or near downtown Chicago include:

How will Chicago respond? While city officials have proclaimed that “Chicago is open for business,” it remains to be seen until the event happens what the outcome will be. Chicago Transit Authority has suspended Blue Line construction during the next three weekends, and is also adding service on some bus routes to accommodate more passengers. Metra will be adding additional service on many lines.

While this work has been in the planning stages for many months, it has only been within the past few weeks that the public has been made aware of this project. In many U.S. metro areas, major construction projects like these have been promoted well in advance, to raise awareness of the event and help travelers plan accordingly. This is a role that a transportation demand management organization, which currently doesn’t exist in Chicago, could play in promoting commuting alternatives.

Many of these organizations play an important role in easing congestion during highway construction projects. These efforts include making travelers aware of the construction and how it impacts their travels, the length of the project and its phases and alternative routes and commuting options to avoid having to drive. We only have to look north to the Milwaukee area for a good example of how this can work. The Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation’s 511.org site has a webpage devoted to the current Zoo Interchange project at the intersection of I-94 and I-894, which is the busiest and oldest interchange in the state of Wisconsin. The webpage, which is updated regularly, includes photos, travel options and a construction schedule.

Traffic congestion and its impact on employees travelling to work, particularly at many suburban employers, is the subject of the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC)’s Commute Options pilot. Providing resources where travelers can find current information, travel times, detour routes and commuting alternatives is no longer optional in the 21st century. We at MPC hope to see a transportation demand management organization in the region capable of handling those components, and we hope that in the meantime, there won’t be any Carmageddon!

For more information about this project, as well as transportation options, visit http://www.dot.il.gov/KennedyatOhio/detour.html

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