The Chicago Blackhawks are the best professional hockey team in America. The Circle Interchange – a couple of miles from the United Center – is arguably the worst traffic bottleneck in the country. In fact a study by the American Transportation Research Institute ranks it the the slowest, most congested interchange in the nation.
Now the Illinois Department of Transportation is getting ready to overhaul the interchange which links the Dan Ryan Expressway, the Kennedy Expressway, the Eisenhower Expressway, and Congress Parkway.
Chicagoans with opinions about the proposed Circle Interchange redesign seem to fall into two groups: those who support the project for the potential of new construction jobs and shorter commuting, and a handful of West Loop residents wary of a busy interstate highway encroaching on their neighborhood.
On Thursday evening, the pros convincingly outnumbered the cons during an IDOT public hearing at the Crown Plaza Chicago Metro Hotel at 733 West Madison Street in Greektown.
How convincingly? I counted 20-2 in favor of the project. The public comments were made on the record to a court reporter, and they counted. IDOT requires 50% in favor for a project to move forward. Prior to the meeting a group of 10 West Loop residents gathered outside the hotel to protest the proposed “flyover” overpass.
The event organizers provided renderings of the proposed interchange and showed a video of the before and after traffic flow from the suburbs into the city. The current traffic flow the video depicted was an excruciatingly slow commute with bumper to bumper traffic. No surprise that the future view suggested a much easier, calmer flow of cars.
During the public hearing, local residents, business owners, and other interested parties were each given two minutes to express their views of the proposal. Most of those who spoke on the record to the gathering of about 100 said the IDOT proposal was a good one. Typical of the comments were those of Benjamin Brockschmidt, representing the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.
“We need to help people get to and from work as quickly as possible,” Brockschmidt said. He said no solution was perfect but IDOT provided a solution that worked.
Other speakers included construction workers and contractors who spoke of the job creation benefits of the project. Roshod Johnson, a West Loop business owner, said he has become a “master of backroads” and shortcuts for nearly 25 years to avoid the interstate’s traffic jam. He said his company offers new employees a map showing how to get to work on time via surface streets.
A couple of residents said they generally supported the Circle Interchange redesign but worried about losing the neighborhood feel of Greektown and the ability to walk unimpeded to UIC and Pilsen via Halsted. The IDOT-recommended redesign (known as the A-7.1c option) would change the configuration of the Eisenhower Expressway from traveling under Halsted, as it is now, to passing over the street.