Earlier this year it was the cold weather that hurt their business and now downtown hotels, restaurants and merchants say they are worried that tourists and other visitors will be scared away by the drumbeat warning to drivers to stay off the Kennedy Expressway over at least the next two weekends because of major lane closings near the Loop.
“Chicago is open for business and there are a lot of great things going on, but plan accordingly,” John Chikow, president and CEO of the Magnificent Mile Association, said Monday.
The association and the hospitality industry are promoting extra transit service being planned by the CTA and Metra as well as alternate driving routes during the Kennedy project to demolish the old Ontario Street bridge.
The demolition will require shutting down the inbound lanes of the Kennedy (I-90/94) and the reversible express lanes in the downtown area this weekend, with all inbound traffic squeezed into two 15-mph temporary lanes that will serve as part of a detour, IDOT said.
For roughly two weeks, transportation officials have been preparing the public for possibly the worst traffic jams in recent years starting this Friday night until early Monday, and then again the following weekend and to a lesser extent during the last weekend of June.
Transportation officials said they couldn’t begin to predict the possible traffic impact on one of the busiest highways in the U.S., but the one certainty is that the planned reroutes won’t be able to smoothly handle the expressway’s normal traffic levels, which exceed a quarter-million vehicles a day.
Business owners, acknowledging there is no good time to do the highway work, are worried that the traffic squeeze will put a major hurt on them too.
“We cannot afford to have fewer people come downtown in the month of June,” Chikow said.
He said he hoped the Illinois Department of Transportation would have provided a few more weeks’ warning of the bridge demolition. For instance, he noted that the association typically begins publicity for the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival 45 days before the event.
“We are trying to be sure that the full message of alternative routes and public transportation is getting out there,” Chikow said, “and not just, ‘Stay away from downtown Chicago.’”
The silver lining is that the largest number of visitors to Chicago typically come in July and August, said Meghan Risch, spokeswoman for Choose Chicago, which is the official destination marketing organization for the city.
Last year, Chicago received a record number of domestic visitors, almost 47 million, Risch said, adding that a visitor is someone who travels at least 50 miles to Chicago. Overseas visitors for 2013 are estimated at 1.4 million, she said.
Businesses are advising employees and customers to allow additional travel time over the next three weekends, even if they are planning to ride the CTA and Metra, both of which are planning to increase weekend capacity on bus and train routes.
The CTA plans to operate longer trains and some additional train runs and extra bus service on a few routes, CTA spokesman Brian Steele said. Details were still being finalized, he said.
Drivers can consider using one of the CTA’s park-and-ride facilities, including along the Kennedy at Rosemont, Cumberland and Harlem — all served by the Blue Line’s O’Hare branch. Weekend work to upgrade track and stations on the Blue Line has been rescheduled until after the Kennedy project, officials said.
For this first weekend at least, Metra will have additional cars on trains on the Union Pacific North, Northwest and West lines, the BNSF line and the Milwaukee North and West lines, Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said.
“We also will have extra crews and equipment ready to use if needed,” Gillis said.
Traffic aides will be assigned to intersections that are expected to be congestion hot spots, to keep traffic moving as much as possible during the Kennedy detours, Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications said.
Over the June 20-22 weekend, the outbound Kennedy lanes and the reversibles will be closed before the approach to the Ohio-Ontario interchange, with traffic detoured off and then back onto the expressway.
The 55-year-old Ontario bridge will be removed in segments over the three weekends to make way for a new bridge that is being completed, IDOT said. Pieces of the old bridge will be lowered onto the closed lanes of the Kennedy and hauled away.
This entry passed through the Full-Text RSS service — if this is your content and you’re reading it on someone else’s site, please read the FAQ at fivefilters.org/content-only/faq.php#publishers.
Powered by WPeMatico