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updated: 4/14/2014 5:47 AM

Suburbs face worst roadwork season in years

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Keep calm and drive on. Because, really, there's nothing you can do about this year's roadwork mother lode unless switching to public transit is an option.

With a major remake of the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) in full swing and construction finally -- finally -- starting in earnest on the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway (I-390), spring and summer 2014 will be the worst for traffic the region has seen in years.

But that is not all. From resurfacing on Route 83 to widening Hart Road in Round Lake to the interminable Route 20/McLean Boulevard project in Elgin, dozens of arterial road improvements will add to the general commuting joy.

Illinois tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur acknowledged it's going to be a challenging year. "We always try to keep the same number of lanes open," she said. "Hopefully people can bear with us. We hope to get (I-90) done as safely and quickly as possible. Customers will have a great driving experience when we're done with these projects."

Kane and McHenry commuters who survived widening of the eastbound I-90 lanes between Rockford and the Elgin Toll Plaza in 2013 should stock up on relaxation CDs now. The second wave of I-90 widening and reconstruction on the westbound lanes is nigh.

One new lane in each direction will be built on the Jane Addams between Elgin and O'Hare starting in 2015. However, 2014 will bring interchange and bridge work at key locations including: the Fox River; Route 25; Barrington, Roselle and Meacham roads; and Lee Street.

"Moving from west to east was a very conscious decision -- the eastern segment is more congested," Lafleur said.

Perhaps to distract from the traffic jam, you could reflect on some of the engineering feats behind the construction dust.

For example, the tollway is building two new bridges over the Fox River, each 1,315 feet long and 40 feet above the surface of the water. That's going to involve moving hundreds of 150-foot-long beams weighing 200,000 pounds,

"There's interesting design elements that present some unique challenges particularly when you are working over a river like that," Lafleur said.

The other marquee project starting this year is the Elgin-O'Hare extension to the airport that will include a western bypass around O'Hare, linking with the Tri-State Tollway to the south and I-90 to the north.

Without a doubt, the expressway is going to change how we commute in the suburbs with links to O'Hare and the Tri-State. It's got edgy engineering, too, with a diverging diamond interchange that eliminates left turns in front of oncoming cars planned for Elmhurst Road and I-90.

But in the short-term, with front loaders and construction crews digging up interchanges at the Elgin-O'Hare and I-290, as well as the Elgin-O'Hare and Rohlwing Road, the rush hour commute will be ugly.

Just remember -- keep calm, and drive on.

Your voice

What does it matter if the tollway widens the Jane Addams to four lanes if eastbound drivers have to squeeze back to three lanes on the Kennedy? An astute reader emailed me that question recently.

IDOT spokeswoman Jae Miller agreed there are chronic problems with the Kennedy/Tri-State nexus with Cumberland Avenue the state hopes to improve.

The "existing cross-section along I-90 is typically three lanes in each direction with the CTA in the median. Between I-190 and Cumberland Avenue five lanes exist in the eastbound direction and four lanes in the westbound direction," Miller said via email.

"In the eastbound direction, IDOT is proposing to widen the Kennedy Expressway by one lane from Cumberland Avenue to Harlem Avenue, which will increase the distance vehicles have to make lane changes, weaves and merge movements, thus reducing congestion. It also will improve access to the Cumberland and Harlem CTA transit stations. Additionally, vehicles destined for southbound Cumberland Avenue from I-90 will be provided a ramp that goes over eastbound I-190 and will be barrier separated from the merging of eastbound I-190 and the Kennedy. Named the 'Cumberland Flyover,' this ramp will allow vehicles traveling eastbound along the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway safer, more efficient access to southbound Cumberland. Vehicles traveling eastbound along I-190 destined for southbound Cumberland Avenue can also access the barrier separation of the southbound Cumberland exit ramp via a slip ramp."

Westbound, IDOT proposes widening the Kennedy by one lane from Harlem Avenue to Canfield Avenue, plus adding a collector-distributor roadway west of Canfield to separate traffic headed for westbound I-190.

What about Elgin?

Will the "Elgin" part of the expressway's title ever happen?

Lafleur noted it took years until communities along the eastern leg of the expressway reached consensus.

"We will have to work with communities along the corridor, just as we always have done, to see in future years if they decide to build future improvements or a future extension to Elgin. They would have to agree it's the right thing to do and we would have to identify funding," she said.

Just the facts

The Elgin-O'Hare and Jane Addams work are part of the tollway's $12 billion, 15-year Move Illinois building program that included a significant rate increase. The I-90 work, which is budgeted at $2.5 billion, includes widening to six lanes from I-39 to Randall Road and to eight lanes from Randall Road to the Tri-State. The shoulders are also being improved to accommodate bus rapid transit.

The Elgin-O'Hare project is budgeted at $3.4 billion.