Upper Wacker Drive Open, Lower Wacker To Reopen Friday Afternoon
The barricades have been pulled off the streets, and as traffic finally returned to Wacker Drive, men with hard hats are talking about grabbing a beer after their shift to celebrate the end of a construction project they’ve worked for nearly three years.
Upper Wacker Drive opened Friday morning at 9 AM, after a round of speeches and accolades from Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation John Porcari, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“Wacker Driver is an important thoroughfare for tens of thousands of motorists and pedestrians,” said Emanuel to a crowd of construction workers, city workers and media assembled at the intersection of Van Buren & Wacker Drive Friday morning. “By modernizing and investing in our infrastructure, we are investing in our future and an improved quality of life for Chicagoans.”
“It’s an iconic part of Chicago but also a major thoroughfare,” said Porcori. “66,000 cars a day travel on Wacker Drive. It’s not a highway, it’s a transportation facility–it connects the city.”
With the reopening of Wacker Drive on Friday, the Revive Wacker Drive project finished on schedule and on budget.
“The best thing we like to hear is ‘on time and on budget’,” said Porcori about the $303 million dollar project which has had Upper or Lower Wacker Drive under some state of construction for two years and seven months. $240 million came from the federal government, $60 million from the State of Illinois and only $3 million from the city itself.
Up top, Upper Wacker has gone through a major face lift, with as much emphasis on aesthetics as on the structural. The ramps from Upper to Lower Wacker Drive at Jackson, Adams and Washington have been removed and replaced with landscaped medians. Also, the formerly two-way ramp at Monroe will now be a one-way ramp down to Lower Wacker. Other landscaping has been added to sidewalks along Upper Wacker, as well as bike lanes and three acres of park land at the southern end of Wacker.
“I’m glad to have it back,” said a Volvo owner who only gave his name as Mike, as he commented through his window about being one of the first drivers to experience the new Wacker Drive.
Lower Wacker Opening Friday Afternoon
Many drivers familiar who remember the dark, dank and dirty, Lower Wacker, may not recognize it any longer.
“It was tough to navigate,” said Klein about the Lower Wacker of the past. “Someone told me once when they drove down a ramp onto Lower Wacker they said they would ‘close your eyes, hit the gas and hope for the best’.”
“I’m a believer especially in Lower Wacker Drive,” said Quinn. “It helps decrease pollution, decreases congestion–it’s the 8th Wonder of the World–Lower Wacker Drive.”
CDOT spokesperson Pete Scales elaborated on some of the changes to Lower Wacker.
“There’s new lighting and a new streamlined layout,” said Scales. “There’s no more blind merges anymore, only two entrances (from Congress Parkway and Monroe), a signal at the Monroe ramp and now there’s a gradual merge at the interchange.”
One construction worker was overheard saying, “It’s like daylight down there now.”
But in addition to the better lighting, there’s also improved ventilation and an additional foot of ceiling height. The project also separated the service lanes utilized by delivery vehicles for buildings along Wacker, from the through lanes in an effort to reduce congestion and improve traffic flow.
While Upper Wacker is already open to traffic, Lower Wacker is scheduled to reopen after 2 PM, in time for rush hour traffic.
“It’s going to happen gradually throughout the afternoon,”said Klein.
Lower Wacker’s northbound lanes will be opened first, followed by the southbound lanes and then the merge from Lower Wacker Drive to Congress Parkway will be the last leg of the roadway to open.