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Buckle Up: Jane Byrne Interchange Might Not Get Better Even After It’s Completed In 2022

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Jane Byrne Interchange

A 2006 file photo of the Circle Interchange, which is now known as the Jane Byrne Interchange.

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Updated 7:45 pm

It’s called a lot of things — the spaghetti bowl, the Circle Interchange, a catalyst for brain aneurysms — but the Jane Byrne Interchange that includes the Dan Ryan, Kennedy, and Eisenhower expressways, as well as Congress Parkway, won’t get any better any time soon. 

Construction on the Jane Byrne interchange is expected to last until 2022, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. 

Lanes are closed, ramps are blocked and traffic is sometimes backed up for miles.

That’s sure to prompt some anger from motorists who choose to fill out the Illinois Department of Transportation’s annual
Traveler Opinion Survey. The online survey covers everything from road conditions to driving behavior and is available through the end of December.

Because smack-talking about traffic in Chicago is almost as fun as complaining about the weather, Morning Shift host Tony Sarabia sat down with Audrey Wennink, who evaluates transit issues for the nonprofit Metropolitan Planning Council, to explain why construction is taking so long on the interchange. 

They also took questions from listeners. 

Here’s some highlights from the chat. 

It’s pretty dense

Audrey Wennink: It’s a very, very tight area. There was actually a situation where it affected some structures in the University of Illinois’ campus and buildings were structurally unstable and had to be evacuated. 

So when you have something wedged into a dense urban area, it’s super complicated. 

Tony Sarabia: What are the other challenges that exist when planning a project of this size? 

Wennink: Well, seasonality. You cannot do things in the winter a lot of the time. So you have to race during the construction season to build projects and do design work in the winter. 

Creating a better interchange could mean … more traffic

Caller John from Bridgeport: Are [transit officials] going to anticipate what’s going to be an increase in traffic? 

Wennink: That’s an excellent point. I mean the bottom line is if you increase roadway capacity, you generally do increase traffic. It’s a phenomenon called induced demand. 

So while there’s an expectation that there will be some smoother flow, and IDOT does forecast a reduction in congestion, a lot of times you have to wait and see until it’s actually built and to see how people behave. 

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to hear the entire conversation, which was produced by WBEZ’s Nereida Moreno.

Hunter Clauss is a digital editor for WBEZ. Follow him at @whuntah.

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