Local officials beam over interchange progress
By Mike Nolan email@example.com September 5, 2013 7:06PM
Gov. Pat Quinn on Thursday signs the first steel beam that will be hoisted into place for the initial phase of construction of an interchange linking Interstates 57 and 294. The beam will be used for the ramp connecting northbound I-57 with northbound I-294, which is expected to open to traffic late next year. | Mike Nolan~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 7, 2013 1:14PM
Apart from being a headache for drivers, the lack of an interchange linking Interstates 57 and 294 was something of a slap in the face to the Southland, a regional official said Thursday.
Before a ceremonial signing of the first beam for a ramp at the interchange Ed Paesel, executive director of the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, said it “kind of sent a message to me the communities and people there really didn’t matter.”
Preliminary work, including reconstruction of the I-57 bridge over the Tri-State Tollway, has been under way for more than a year, and the first two ramps of the long-sought interchange are scheduled to open to traffic late next year.
Clutching big Sharpie pens, Gov. Pat Quinn, area legislators, some Southland mayors and construction workers signed their names to the beam, which is 137 feet long and weighs about 40,000 pounds.
It will be used in the ramp connecting northbound I-57 with northbound I-294. A second ramp, also expected to open late next year, will link southbound I-294 to southbound I-57.
Work during the project’s initial phase will also include construction of a ramp from southbound I-294 to 147th Street as well as an access ramp from 147th Street to the northbound Tri-State.
“This is a shot in the arm for the Southland (economy),” state Rep. Bob Rita (D-Blue Island) said during the ceremony.
U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-2nd), of Matteson, said that, once completed, the interchange will “provide the Southland with many benefits for years to come.”
It will be, however, several years before all those benefits are fully realized.
Work on the $719 million project’s second phase isn’t scheduled to begin until 2023. That will include building additional ramps to connect southbound I-57 to northbound I-294 and northbound I-294 to northbound I-57.
Work on the second phase could be moved up should funding become available sooner, said Wendy Abrams, a spokeswoman for the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority.
Once completed, the interchange is expected to accommodate about 76,000 vehicles daily and save drivers $4 million annually in fuel costs by not having to use Interstate 80 to get to I-57 and I-294, according to the tollway authority.
Much of the fuel savings will be realized by trucking firms, and the interstate connection also will help improve access to area intermodal terminals, said Kristi Lafleur, the tollway authority’s executive director.