Governor Quinn Previews the New Wacker Drive

Completion of $303 million project will make historic roadway “safer, swifter, cleaner, greener”

CHICAGO –(ENEWSPF)–October 4, 2012. Governor Pat Quinn was joined by Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider today for a guided tour of the massive Wacker Drive reconstruction project in Chicago. Once completed, the roadway will provide benefits to motorists including less congestion, easier navigation and faster, safer travel enabled by state-of-the-art engineering and technology. The completion of Wacker Drive is expected in December 2012, and reflects Governor Quinn’s commitment to modernizing the state’s transportation infrastructure to ensure that Chicago and Illinois can compete in the 21st Century economy.

“A century ago, Daniel Burnham offered a plan for Chicago’s downtown that was efficient, elegant and public-spirited. The new Wacker Drive embraces that civic vision and applies it to modern-day transportation and commercial needs,” Governor Quinn said. “The new Wacker Drive will make travel safer, swifter, cleaner and greener. This road to the 21st Century is a milestone project for the Chicago region and we are proud to have made it happen as quickly as possible.”

The Wacker Drive Project is being managed by the Chicago Department of Transportation and funded by the state of Illinois, resulting in more than 3,100 construction jobs being created or supported. The $303 million renovation was made possible through funding from the Governor’s “Jump Start” Capital Improvement Program, which was launched in 2009. The project is eligible for 80 percent reimbursement for the Federal Highway Bridge Program. Total project cost to date is approximately $303 million with $240 million being reimbursed by the federal government, $60 million from the state of Illinois Jump Start program, and $3 million from the city of Chicago.

“This critical work is a perfect example of the importance of investing in Chicago’s infrastructure, to create jobs and economic opportunity for residents and build a new Chicago for our children,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The project – launched in April, 2010 – modernizes historic Lower and Upper Wacker Drive from Randolph Street to Congress Boulevard, and reconfigures the busy Congress Parkway Interchange. Complementing the Wacker Drive renovation is the recently-completed Eisenhower Expressway resurfacing and rebuilding of the crumbling Congress Bridge over the Chicago River which Governor Quinn reopened in May, 2012. The east-west section of Wacker Drive – built in 1926 to replace the city’s original market – was renovated in 2001. Wider roadways and bridges, safer merging ramps, pedestrian “islands”, reconfigured traffic signals, and better lighting and ventilation in Lower Wacker are key features of the renovation. The revitalization of Wacker Drive will make it easier to navigate and relieve congestion in Chicago’s Loop.

“The Wacker Drive project will make life easier for people on the move through one of the nation’s busiest arteries,” said IDOT Director Schneider. “This will reduce traffic accidents, cut travel times and enhance the aesthetics of Chicago’s welcome mat.”

Governor Quinn’s tour focused on three sites in the project. The tour began at the Civic Opera House. Completed in 1929 by tycoon Samuel Insull, the Art Deco classic now houses the Lyric Opera and is the oldest building on South Wacker Drive. Special care was taken to protect the foundation of this historic edifice and others on Wacker. One engineering challenge of the project was the labyrinth of freight, transit and sewage tunnels built decades ago. One such tunnel was the Washington Trolley which ran east-west under the River to bring passengers to trains on the River’s west side. Part of the underground improvements of the Wacker Drive Project included the separation of sanitary and storm sewer systems.

The next stop on the Governor’s tour was the Wacker Drive section at Willis Tower – still under construction – which provided a view of “post-tensioning,” a method of reinforcing concrete using steel bands called tendons. This allows for a thinner deck (which uses less concrete) and wider pier spacing to ease the continuous traffic activity on Lower Wacker. The ceiling of Lower Wacker is also higher. Governor Quinn also noted underground safety considerations incorporated into the project, such as jet-powered fans which will ventilate vehicular exhaust fumes. Fire sprinkler systems have been installed which are strong enough to function even in the event of a hazardous materials disaster.

Finally, the Governor visited the Congress Parkway Interchange at Wells Street. Once an inaccessible cloverleaf ramp, this “welcome mat” is being transformed into a three-acre park with walking paths, benches, a dog-friendly zone, a wildflower “meadow” and green space in line with Burnham’s vision. It will be landscaped with trees to replicate the sense of Chicago’s “broad shoulders”.

Wacker Drive has played a crucial role in Chicago’s development. Built as part of the Burnham Plan, it was the nation’s first double-decker freeway. For more on the Wacker Drive Project, visit: