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Kennedy inbound lanes reopen, ‘Carmageddon’ largely avoided

Aerial view of the demolition of the Ontario St. bridge. | Lee Hogan/For Sun-Times Media
Aerial view of the demolition of the Ontario St. bridge. | Lee Hogan/For Sun-Times Media

All inbound lanes of the Kennedy Expressway were reopened to traffic about noon Sunday, after demolition of the Ontario Street bridge, which spans the expressway, progressed faster than anticipated, highway officials said.

About 10 p.m. Friday, crews routed traffic to a detour and closed the expressway so they could begin tear-down of the overhead bridge. But they made enough progress that the time-table for project completion was shortened from three weeks to two weeks, Illinois Department of Transportation officials said.

That led to the inbound express lanes opening ahead of schedule at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, according to Illinois State Police. Though state police said the Ohio Street ramp remains closed.

IDOT officials also forecasted that regular inbound lanes on the Kennedy will be opened by noon Sunday – well ahead of the anticipated Monday opening time of 5 a.m.

“The removal of the Ontario Street bridge is proceeding so smoothly that we, in coordination with the city of Chicago, are taking advantage of the opportunity to condense this project into just two weekends,” Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Ann L. Schneider said Saturday.

Drivers were warned for weeks that the work would cause massive traffic backups, so they largely steered clear. The expressway was near-empty by the Loop Sunday as a feared “Carmaggedon,” affecting Kennedy drivers heading into the city from the north, appeared to have been averted.

Traffic volume on the inbound Kennedy was about a third less than on a typical June weekend.

On Saturday inbound drivers who took their chances on the Kennedy were creeping along slowly, at 5 to 25 miles an hour approaching Diversey, where two lanes were closed for a mile.

That prompted many to head for the exit ramps.

The new, accelerated work schedule means traffic will shift back onto the main expressway lanes starting at 10 p.m. Saturday, as the Ohio Street exit ramp is closed. The exit will remain closed until 5 a.m. Monday, according to IDOT.

Next weekend’s construction will close lanes on the outbound Kennedy, weather permitting.

The Chicago Blues Festival, the Spring Awakening Music Festival at Soldier Field and the Taste of Randolph Festival were all drawing crowds this weekend.

Karen Ellsworth, a Michigan resident in town visiting family, said her daughter warned her about the construction. But she had no problems on I-90/94 heading into downtown.

“It was great,” Ellsworth said. “She said everybody’s avoiding it, so no one’s on it.”

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