Monday, July 23rd, 2007

Mini-Review: I-80/I-94 Widening in Northwest Indiana and Chicago

I-80/I-94 through northwest Indiana and the south Chicago suburbs is a major national trucking corridor that is very heavily traveled. Known as the Borman Expressway in Indiana and the Kingery Expressway in Illinois, this road was, like many Chicago area freeways, routinely choked with cars and dead stop conditions were possible anytime day or night.

Over the past four years or so, IDOT and INDOT have reconstructed and widened this road from I-65 west. It is now four lanes in each direction instead of three, with collector/distributor lanes between interchanges. What’s more, all interchanges were completely redesigned and reconstructed to improve capacity, reduce weaving, and improve safety. Essentially all bridges throughout the project were replaced as well. And noise barrier walls were constructed in many places.

With the recent completion of the Kingery project, this upgrade is now all but complete. INDOT is still in the middle of rebuilding the I-65 interchange over the next three years (three years????) at a cost of $187 million. But the improvements already in place have made a noticeable improvement in traffic flow.

I think this project is overall first rate. Obviously I hate the tower lighting, but I’m like a broken record on that subject. I think the design is quite nice, and probably the best that could have been done given the right of way constraints. It probably won’t handle the traffic volumes forever, but then again, nothing could in the massive Chicago area.

When you combine this project with the I-65 widening INDOT did a few years ago, you can see that the state has almost completely renewed the freeway system of Lake County. I had long rated improvements to the Borman as the #1 road priority in the state, and I-65 improvements weren’t far behind. These projects should take care of the region’s freeway needs for some time.

I’m not sure how much money Indiana spent on this project, but it was certainly a lot. Illinois spent over $450 million on its section, which considering it is less than three miles is certainly stunning. It has long been known that road construction costs are higher in Illinois than most places. And this was a very complex project to construct, including some very lengthy flyover ramps. Also, Illinois designs for a 40-50 year pavement life (versus 20 years for Indiana), which at least partially accounts for the high price tag.

I find the Kingery project especially interesting as I think it is a solution that may be applicable to the I-465/I-69 project in Indianapolis. Both interchanges feature surface interchanges that are too closely spaced – Torrence Ave and 82nd St. respectively – to the freeway-freeway interchange. What IDOT did was to reconstruct Torrenace as a SPUI. Through traffic to the Tri-State Tollway (which has also been widened) passes inside the SPUI ramps. Traffic exiting and entering from the Calumet Expressway (I refuse to call it the Bishop Ford) or IL-394 uses a three lane each way C/D system that passes to the outside of the SPUI ramps. Now Torrence is further from the freeway-freeway interchange than 82nd St. is in Indianapolis. But I think INDOT ought to look at something like this as a solution in the northeast corridor.

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Topics: Transportation
Cities: Chicago

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