Wacker Drive, including the lower level connection to Congress Parkway, completely reopened to traffic Friday, Nov 30. The $303 million project created or supported 3,100 jobs and was completed on time and on budget.
The nearly three year project completes the modernization of historic Lower and Upper Wacker Drive from Randolph Street to Congress Boulevard, and reconfigures the busy Congress Parkway Interchange.
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 now make it easier to navigate and relieve congestion in Chicago’s Loop.
Upper Wacker Drive is now significantly improved from Randolph to Congress. Ramps to Lower Wacker Drive at Jackson, Adams and Washington were removed and replaced with landscaped medians. In addition to the medians, Upper Wacker Drive is now outfitted with sidewalk planters and decorative light fixtures. The ramp at Monroe was removed and replaced with a new one-way ramp to Lower Wacker Drive.
Lower Wacker has a series of improvements from Randolph to Congress. The deteriorated viaduct structure built in the 1950s was replaced, lifting the vertical clearance by more than one foot. New lighting improves visibility and new ventilation equipment improves air quality. The service drive and through lanes on Lower Wacker are also separated, alleviating congestion and expediting traffic.
Congress Parkway Interchange
The Congress Parkway Interchange reconfiguration improves traffic safety and creates new green space. Improvements included moving the eastbound Congress exit ramp at Franklin below ground and moving the Lower Wacker Drive entrance ramp onto westbound Congress below ground.
Traffic improvements include removing the Franklin ramp onto westbound Congress. This eliminated the double-merge with the Lower Wacker Drive ramp onto westbound Congress. Additionally, the Lower Wacker ramp now has a longer merge lane.
The Wacker Drive project also incorporated a number of environmentally sustainable elements and practices. The Congress Parkway Interchange reconstruction created three acres of new green space with a park area between Franklin and Wells. The City plans to plant meadow grass, upright deciduous trees, flowering trees, evergreen trees, deciduous shade trees, perennials and shrubs in this area, which will be publicly accessible.
Additional green space will be created at Upper Wacker Drive by replacing ramps to Lower Wacker at Jackson, Adams and Washington with landscaped medians.
Other sustainable elements include: LED traffic signals, which are much more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs and longer-lasting; a stormwater management system designed to direct storm runoff into the combined sewer system instead of the Chicago River; and the extensive use of recycled steel and concrete in construction.