Drivers making the always-slow trip downtown during the morning rush on the Eisenhower Expressway are asking what's the reason behind the additional 15 minutes of delay at a bottleneck that starts to form east of Morgan Street, and when will it end?
It tops the list of complaints from Getting Around readers.
Q: Inbound on the Ike (I-290) is unnecessarily messy approaching the old Main Post Office because of construction bollards as you merge onto Congress Parkway. Two of the three lanes to Congress are closed at that location. Traffic is squeezed from both sides into the open middle lane, causing congestion to build from that point west. Holy smokes. It would really help if they opened another lane. And there's never a construction crew around. What's the time frame for this mess?
— Brian Lantz, Oak Park
A: The tie-ups, which affect not only drivers going to Congress but also those headed to the ramps to the Kennedy and Dan Ryan expressways, will likely drag on until June, with more delay-inducing changes to follow, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Officials said extra working space is needed in connection with the reconstruction of the Halsted Street overpass, which is one piece of the almost half-billion-dollar Circle Interchange project to redesign the junction where the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Ryan and Congress meet.
"What people are not seeing is that some of the work has to be done at night,'' said Tony Quigley, IDOT engineer of project implementation.
Eastbound Congress Parkway has been reduced to one lane to allow a safe work zone as crews demolish the Halsted bridge and build piers for the replacement bridge adjacent to the Congress lanes and the CTA Blue Line tracks, IDOT said.
The barrier wall is necessary to protect motorists and construction workers because "drivers were cutting across the (merge) area at the last minute,'' Quigley said.
The temporary inbound traffic configuration — one lane of the Eisenhower going to Congress, one lane to the Kennedy and two lanes to the Ryan — will remain for about three to four more weeks, IDOT spokeswoman Jae Miller said.
Then, the ramp from the inbound Eisenhower to the outbound Ryan will be reduced to one lane from two lanes, IDOT said. One lane will continue to carry traffic to the outbound Kennedy and two lanes will take traffic onto Congress.
That second lane configuration will last from June through the fall, Miller said.
"This configuration is needed to demolish and reconstruct the abutments on the south side of Halsted and the west side of Harrison Street, she said.
Responding to driver complaints about the need for an extra lane now on the Eisenhower feeding to Congress in the morning, IDOT said doing so would lead to worse backups during the evening rush, when more traffic is headed to the Kennedy than to Congress.
"For the evening rush, the Kennedy ramp needs its own lane and then some. If we made a shared lane, it will take the Kennedy ramp capacity down more to give it to Congress, significantly impacting the evening rush," Miller said.
Quigley said travel times have increased an average of 10 to 15 minutes in the morning and that drivers are adapting to the temporary lane configuration. But some drivers have complained to Getting Around that delays can be much longer and traffic is often backed up for miles.
Quigley suggested drivers might opt to leave home earlier in the morning and, he said, "There is always mass transit.''
Q: The UberX ride-share service is a breath of fresh air. No smelly, surly drivers with lackluster safety records. I rate every driver, and every driver rates me as a customer. Can you imagine the litany of complaints that would be leveled at Chicago cabdrivers? I like the way I am treated by my UberX driver. It makes me almost feel like I am visiting in Japan, where the cabdriver and service personnel experience are nothing short of idyllic. Less government everywhere, including interference with my rides to and from the airport, is what I long for. But Uber doesn't have the clout of the Chicago cab coalition. You would think that as a native Chicagoan, I would have gotten used to the abuse of politicians doing what is in their best interest instead of what is in my best interest, but I haven't.
— Richard Vazquez, Chicago
A: Your views appear to represent the experience of many others who have compared ride-sharing services to traditional taxis. UberX and its main competitors, Lyft and SideCar, enjoy their own level of clout with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who allowed them to operate hands-off in Chicago for about a year until he recently proposed some regulation of the ride-share industry. State lawmakers are getting in on the act too. Final action is expected May 28 in the City Council, and votes are pending in the General Assembly.
Q: I just read your latest article on O'Hare noise. I'm in Park Ridge at Washington Street and Albion Avenue. It seems no one is listening to concerns, and Chicago's noise complaint website is a joke. I can't keep up with the planes as they fly overhead when I try to log them in. The noise prevents my two kids, almost 3 years old and nine months, from napping. Our mayor doesn't seem to care — we pay higher taxes here for what? Anything for a buck. If Mayor Emanuel came by for a visit, he might see how bad it is. Why would anyone want to raise a young family here?
— Gretchen Salois, Park Ridge
A: Mayor Emanuel would be kept busy for at least the next year just dropping by the homes of all the residents Getting Around has heard from who are begging for noise relief since jet traffic patterns changed last fall with the opening of another new runway. Depending on what day it is and who representing Chicago is doing the talking, homeowners like Gretchen are either "chronic complainers'' or important voices who shouldn't be drowned out by airplane noise.
"The city supports holding a public hearing and in fact has been working with aldermen to do just that,'' Emanuel spokesman Bill McCaffrey said.
But that City Council hearing, demanded in January by two Chicago aldermen whose wards are being pummeled with jet noise, still has not been scheduled. High-level sources who have had meetings with the mayor's staff say the reason given is that the city has no concessions to offer on reducing noise impacts and, therefore, Chicago Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino has prevailed in convincing Emanuel that there is no point in holding a hearing.
Contact Getting Around at email@example.com or c/o the Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611; on Twitter @jhilkevitch; and at facebook.com/jhilkevitch. Read recent columns at chicagotribune.com/gettingaround.