Chicagoans have watched the Navy Pier Flyover begin to take shape over the last three years. But just recently, the city pushed back the completion date of the elevated lakefront path to 2019. Frustrated cyclists and pedestrians are beginning to ask why.
As one Chicago blogger put it, it’s already taking longer to build the Flyover than the Golden Gate Bridge.
This part of the Navy Pier Flyover looks like it’s ready to go. It soars over two of the most congested intersections on the lakefront path, Grand and Illinois. But that’s it. The Flyover comes to an abrupt halt south of Illinois.
“It’s very frustrating, especially now that they’re teasing us with this beautiful ramp right here,” said Russ Kuryk. “It’s like when will it be done?”
That’s the question almost everyone who rides, runs or walks along the lakefront bike path has been asking since Mayor Rahm Emanuel broke ground for the highly touted, $60 million project in 2014.
“I was under the impression the whole thing would take like two years; that seemed like a reasonable amount of time,” said bike commuter Laura Ballou. “I feel like the whole 606 got constructed before this did and that’s like miles long and this is like a quarter of a mile. So it’s aggravating.
It’s about to get more aggravating as the city has just pushed the completion date for the Flyover from 2018 to 2019.
Kyle Whitehead with the Active Transportation Alliance, who often maneuvers his bike through traffic on Grand Avenue and Navy Pier, says the delay is a blow for the thousands of people who use the bike path.
“It’s one of the most talked about projects in the region and because the construction timeline was as long as it was, people have been waiting for a long time, so to ask them to wait a little longer into 2019 is certainly disappointing,” Whitehead said.
Kuryk, who trains bike racers and triathletes, says the Flyover is needed more for safety than convenience.
“The biggest difference, I think it would be the safety. During busy weekend days it gets really crowded especially coming from the south it gets so congested by the traffic light there,” he said.
“It is one of the busiest, one of the most congested and one of the highest conflict zones on the trail,” Whitehead said.
Though the project’s $29 million phase one over Grand and Illinois was completed this summer, it can’t be used until the $14.5 million phase two is completed at the end of 2018. Phase two will take the Flyover over the Ogden Slip and DuSable Park. It will connect to lower Lake Shore Drive where two lanes will temporarily be added for bikers, an idea first proposed by Streetsblog Chicago reporter Steven Vance in 2012.
“That will be a big improvement it will allow you to bypass the vehicle traffic that’s going in and out of Navy Pier, which was the clearest need for this project,” Whitehead said.
The delay comes with phase three, which will take the Flyover over the river. A hole will be punched through the bridge house and lanes will be added to the east side of the bridge. Bids for this phase won’t go out until sometime this winter. The city would not do an on camera interview but says the reason for the delay is the need for newly identified structural and mechanical repairs on the existing bridge.
“The lengthy timeline for planning and building the project we hoped would allow them to identify this issue earlier on, so perhaps the bridge could have been prepared and renovated while other aspects of their project were moving forward. But obviously that didn’t happen,” said Whitehead.
Construction problems also plague the Northerly Island bike path which opened in 2015 as part of the transformation of Meigs Field. One month later, a storm damaged the shoreline and closed a portion of the bike path. Two years later, the shoreline has been fortified with large boulders, but the bike path but remains closed.
The Park District would give no dates as to when the work they say needs to be done to reopen the path would begin. The work would have to be done by the Army corps of Engineers. The Army corps of Engineers says it has no contracts for the project.
There’s been a lot more progress on separating bikers and pedestrians along the lakefront bike path. That project, announced in December 2016 after a $12 million gift from billionaire Ken Griffin, is already 40-percent complete. The city says it will be finished in 2018—at least one year before the Flyover’s finish date.
Pushing the completion date for the Flyover to 2019 will also push up the projected $60 million cost of the project. The bulk of the funding comes from federal transportation grants but the Illinois Department of Transportation is also responsible for funding. The state’s budget crisis meant the funding had to be spread out over several years and that has also contributed to the delays on the project.
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