On the city’s Northwest Side, Albany Park residents have for years lived in fear of major flooding from the north branch of the Chicago River. Seventy million dollars later, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and city officials say the problem is solved.
The infrastructure project is designed to capture rising river water and divert it 150 feet below the surface into a giant tunnel that runs below Foster Avenue, from Pulaski Road to an area near California Avenue. The water then dumps into River Park where the river meets the North Shore Channel.
The project was paid for with a mix of city and federal money, and funds from the separately taxed Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. Emanuel says residents can now sleep soundly when there’s a rainstorm, without fear of their properties getting flooded.
“This deep tunnel is on time and on budget and done for the Albany residents,” Emanuel said Tuesday. “This is one of the rainier springs and summers. This tunnel has been used four times, and no flooding in basements, no disruptions to families.”
Other city and water reclamation officials agree that the tunnel has successfully been tested with some pretty heavy rain events, although nothing like some the area has seen over the past few decades. From the 1980s to the present, there have been repeated floods in the neighborhood where resident’s basements and first floors have been totally washed out. That led to the obvious rise in homeowners and flood insurance rates and, according to some residents we spoke with, a negative impact on property values. One 87-year Albany Park resident said he expects insurance rates and home values to reverse course if this tunnel works as advertised.
“1987, 2002, and 2013. Those three dates we had to evacuate our house and everyone in the area,” said longtime resident Bob Fine. “All the gas was turned off, all the electricity was shut off.”
Officials on Tuesday blamed the increased frequency of heavy rain storms for the need to mitigate the damage, saying that this is now the price of climate change.
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