The Circle Interchange was built in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, during the same time period as construction of the Kennedy Expressway. No major rehabilitation has taken place on the Circle Interchange since its original construction.
The Circle Interchange is critical to the nation’s transportation system, particularly for freight movement on our Interstate and arterial roadways. The Circle, lying at the heart of the Chicagoland region, serves as a vital hub for local, regional, and national traffic. According to the American Transportation Research Institute and the Federal Highway Administration, the Circle Interchange is the slowest and most congested highway freight bottleneck in the nation with more than 300,000 vehicles a day traveling through the Circle on a daily basis and over 1,100 crashes reported on average per year. As the interchange approaches its useful life and the condition of the bridges continues to deteriorate, increased maintenance more frequently disrupts traffic.
The Illinois Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration are the joint lead agencies for the Circle Interchange Project. IDOT has hired a Project Management Consultant, Stanley Consultants, to manage the project on behalf of IDOT. A consultant team led by a joint venture of AECOM and TranSystems will conduct technical studies, and coordinate stakeholder outreach efforts.
The Study Team is looking to gather valuable input from stakeholders regarding issues, constraints and transportation needs in the study area, as well as gathering ideas and feedback on preliminary concepts. The Project Study Team is looking for stakeholders to provide comments on issues and constraints, the project’s Purpose and Need and the evaluation criteria.
The DRAFT purpose of the project is to provide: An improved transportation facility for the Circle Interchange by addressing the existing and 2040 transportation needs. Based on what we know now regarding the existing conditions, the Study Team has developed these Need Points; Improve safety, Improve mobility, Improve traffic operations, and address the condition of an aging facility.
There was an Aesthetic Master Plan Study, led by IDOT, that concluded in January 2010 and the plan focused on improvements to the existing layout of the Circle Interchange. There were many low cost elements of the Master Plan that have already been implemented, and the Circle Interchange study will use the aesthetics portion of the Plan as a guide, as concepts are developed. There will be continued coordination with these stakeholders as the planning and design phases’ progress.
Context Sensitive Solutions is a State of Illinois requirement for major or complex projects that seeks effective, multi-modal transportation solutions by working with stakeholders to develop, build and maintain cost-effective transportation facilities that fit into and reflect the project’s surrounding—its “context.” Residents, business leaders and local representatives will have opportunities to be engaged in the study through public involvement meetings and a Project Working Group (PWG) that will meet four times throughout the study. One PWG meeting has already been held. In addition, a website tailored to the study provides progress updates, upcoming meeting times and locations, and facilitate the exchange of information and ideas.
As part of the CSS process, local residents, business leaders, and representatives from transit agencies, community groups, medical district, business groups, and local governments are included in the Circle Interchange Study. We encourage the community to visit the Circle Interchange Study website, www.circleinterchange.org for the latest information. The website will be updated throughout the study, and will offer an easy way for everyone to provide input. In addition, there will be public meetings and opportunities for public input.
The Circle Interchange is highly congested and operates in breakdown conditions for most of the day. The focus of this study is to address the operational and safety issues of the Interchange itself. Initial field observations have identified numerous existing deficiencies including mainline and ramps being over capacity, tight merges, short weaving distances, and numerous decision points, which contribute to congestion and safety issues within this aging interchange and adjacent corridors.
There is a need to improve the safety, mobility, operations, and facility condition of the Circle Interchange. The interchange was built in the late 1950s and has not received any major rehabilitation in its 50 year history. Traffic volumes are significantly larger today, and today’s trucks are a larger proportion of the traffic. Truck needs of today are not accommodated in the existing interchange designed to 1950’s standards. The Department is conducting this study to work with stakeholders to define the issues and needs, and from there will develop a range of alternatives to address them. The final decision to make changes to the Circle Interchange will come near the completion of the study process. Any enhancements will help improve the safety, mobility, and operations at the interchange so that it is better capable of meeting the current and future demands of all users for many years to come.
There are many opportunities to build upon the vision of the Aesthetics Master Plan to potentially improve aesthetics of the Circle Interchange.
Studies completed by the project team so far have identified the safety, mobility, operations, and facility condition needs of the Circle Interchange. These needs were discussed at the first PWG meeting. The interchange is congested most of the day, from 7 AM until 8 PM. The interchange experiences over 1,100 crashes per year (approximately 3 per day). The number of lanes along the Kennedy and Dan Ryan are reduced from 5 lanes near Hubbards Cave and Roosevelt Road to only 3 lanes through the interchange. The bottleneck contributes to congestion. In addition, the ramps from northbound Dan Ryan to westbound Eisenhower, eastbound Eisenhower to northbound Kennedy, and southbound Kennedy to westbound Eisenhower are over capacity and frequently backup. These backups result in crashes, especially due to differences in speeds between adjacent lanes.
The Phase I preliminary engineering work and Phase II design engineering is being funded out of IDOT’s current engineering program. At this time, Phase III for actual construction is not currently funded. A component of the Phase I study is to identify funding sources and develop a financial plan.
The Circle Interchange Phase I Study began in May 2012 and is on a one year schedule. Design Approval is expected by Spring 2013. Phase II, contract document preparation is scheduled for a one year timeframe. Therefore, the overall duration is two years with contract documents ready for letting in Spring 2014. The project could begin construction in mid-2014 pending funding availability.
Regionally, population is expected to continue to increase. Our analysis will consider the effects of the regional growth in the study analysis. It should be noted that the existing traffic demand at the Circle Interchange far exceeds the available capacity. As a result, it is anticipated that some traffic is using parallel arterials and local streets to avoid congestion in the vicinity of the Circle Interchange.
Will there still be traffic congestion elsewhere on the expressway system, even after the Circle Interchange is improved? Why spend large amounts of money that the State doesn't have to end up with congestion elsewhere?
There are safety, mobility, operation, and facility condition needs at the Circle Interchange that need to be addressed. IDOT acknowledges that there are other traffic needs elsewhere along our expressway system, which would be addressed by other ongoing or future studies conducted as part of the Department’s Multi-Year Multi-Modal Transportation Plan.
The CTA’s Blue Line operates in the median of the Eisenhower Expressway and there is a station with entrances at the Halsted, Peoria, and Racine overpasses. Access to the rail transit is an important consideration in this study. In addition, CTA operates bus routes on the roadways crossing through the project area. All of these routes will be considered during the evaluation of alternatives.
The Study Team will be looking for the best combination of individual components that address the operational and safety deficiencies, and thus provide an overall improvement to the entire interchange. These components may include additional lanes on the Kennedy and Dan Ryan Expressways. Adding capacity to the northbound Kennedy/Dan Ryan ramp leading to the westbound Eisenhower, the eastbound Eisenhower ramp leading to the northbound Kennedy, and the southbound Kennedy ramp leading to westbound Eisenhower, will be considered as well.
The footprint of the Circle Interchange is within a tight urban area. The goal is to work within the existing transportation footprint. The CTA Blue Line, UIC/ Halsted Street Station and tunnel infrastructure located along the median of the Eisenhower Expressway, the Cermak Pump Station and all adjacent buildings will be considered as alternatives are developed and evaluated.
Yes, drainage is an important consideration and we are investigating drainage and flooding problems. We currently have three pump stations in the project area to accommodate drainage. This study will investigate the sufficiency of the existing system and recommend any improvements.
We will continue with the technical analysis, and encourage the ongoing participation of stakeholders. Based on the information gathered today, we will continue to refine the alternatives. We will continue to meet with the Project Working Group and update local officials on project progress, and encourage their timely and meaningful participation in the development of a preferred alternative. It is expected that this next phase of analysis and evaluation will result in the selection of a preferred concept. This process will occur over the Fall and Winter. The preferred alternative will be presented at the public hearing anticipated in Spring 2013.