Lower Wacker Drive to reopen soon

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Lower Wacker Drive, the best shortcut through downtown Chicago, will reopen to traffic at the end of November, while other changes are set for this week as the $300 million Wacker Drive reconstruction heads toward completion in December, officials said.

Crews will reopen the intersection of Jackson Boulevard and Wacker Drive on Thursday, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation. The reopening should make getting around a lot easier for drivers, pedestrians and taxicab customers, as well as CTA riders in the West Loop whose buses have been detoured off Jackson east of Canal Street for many months.

The Wacker-Van Buren Street intersection will remain closed until Nov. 30, CDOT said.

Nov. 30 is also when traffic will be restored from the Congress Parkway interchange, the Eisenhower Expressway (Interstate 290) and Harrison Street to Lower and Upper Wacker, officials said.

It means drivers will again be able to make the connection from Lake Shore Drive to Harrison and to the Congress interchange, said Michelle Woods, CDOT's Wacker project manager.

"We're very pleased that we are winding down the project, and for drivers coming into downtown from the west, the shortcut through the Loop on Lower Wacker will be restored," Woods said.

In connection with the Wacker-Jackson reopening Thursday, a semblance of normalcy will return to crowded Canal Street between Jackson Boulevard and Adams Street.

The city will reinstate the southbound "contra-flow" lane for CTA buses on the west side of Canal in front of Union Station, officials said. Other traffic will continue northbound on Canal between Jackson and Adams, officials said.

On Nov. 19, CTA bus routes No. 1 Indiana/Hyde Park, No. X28 Stony Island Express and No. 151 Sheridan will return to their original routing and serve the bus stop along the "contra-flow" lane for the first time since last year, officials said.

A handful of other CTA bus routes will remain detoured until the Wacker-Van Buren intersection reopens, CTA officials said. But on Nov. 19, a dozen CTA bus routes will undergo partial changes. Details will be posted at transitchicago.com.

Meanwhile, the taxicab stand that was temporarily relocated to the west side of Canal outside Union Station during the Wacker project will return to its regular location on the east side of the street effective Thursday, officials said.

And Amtrak, which owns Union Station, will continue a pilot project at the new taxicab stand location. It involves a more organized queuing system for taxi customers and employs uniformed cab starters to offer assistance between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. every day, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said.

"The other function of having the cab starters there is to discourage street hustlers who have been intercepting people trying to use the cabs and soliciting them for tips," Magliari said.

Ticketing and arresting the hustlers hasn't worked, so this is another effort to help passengers, Magliari said.

The cab starters, which coordinate the taxis, are each dressed for winter in a long wool coat, a hat that says "Chicago Union Station" and a badge, he said.

"Unlike the hustlers who tend to have their hand out, our guys and gals will not," Magliari said.

Most elements of the double-decker Wacker reconstruction will be completed by Nov. 30, said Oswaldo Chaves, CDOT's construction manager for the project. The work replaces a badly deteriorated viaduct structure that opened to traffic in 1955 between Randolph Street and Congress.

Many drivers have waited, admittedly impatiently, for the full reopening of Lower Wacker, portions of which were reduced to one lane in each direction or closed entirely except for service drives starting in May 2010, officials said.

As part of the full Lower Wacker reopening, a new and improved ramp from the lower level to Congress and the expressway system will also open Nov. 30, officials said.

Traffic engineers have reconfigured the Congress interchange to improve sight lines and create longer lane tapers at so-called suicide merge lanes to cut down on accidents.

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