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Wacker Drive reopens: 'This reconnects the fiber of the city'

The workers and engineers and architects who spent the last few years rebuilding Wacker Drive were on hand today for a ribbon-cutting marking the completion of the $300 million reconstruction of a critical city thoroughfare.

“It provides choices,” Deputy U.S. Transportation Secretary John Porcari said after city workers removed large orange street barricades blocking Van Buren. “This reconnects the fiber of the city.”

The rebuilt north-south section of Wacker Drive will be completely open to traffic Friday, including the lower-level roadway connection to Congress Parkway.

Lower Wacker was being reopened in phases -- for the first time since 2010 -- to allow for a controlled debut of the new underground ramp that is designed to provide drivers with a more gradual merge onto Congress Parkway, according to Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Pete Scales.

Lower Wacker was expected to be fully open by the evening rush. The transportation department estimates that some 60,000 vehicles use the upper and lower Wacker corridors every day.

Dan Burke, deputy transportaton commissioner, predicted that the impact of the opening would be “huge.”

“It’s going to relieve the congestion on all the other streets,” Burke said. “It’s going to be a very noticeable improvement for everyone who needs to commute through the central business district.”

The reopening marks the completion, except for landscaping next spring and minor items, of the $300 million reconstruction of Wacker between Randolph Street and Congress. The stretch, which features wider sidewalks and crosswalks, is used by tens of thousands of vehicles and 150,000 pedestrians on an average weekday, CDOT said.

On lower Wacker, transportation department officials said motorists could expect two through lanes in each direction with signalized intersections and service drives for deliveries with controlled access points.

“It was a little scary down there,” Klein said. “Streamlined operations and safety below are key.”

Gov. Pat Quinn praised those who worked on Lower Wacker, deeming it “the eighth wonder of the world” to applause and laughter from the crowd.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel echoed the governor’s comments.

“I want to thank the men and women and their families for the three years of work to come to this day that allows upper and lower Wacker, iconic pieces of the city’s history, to be reopened and remodernized for the 21st century,” Emanuel said.

Less than a minute after the barricades were removed, motorists began heading west on Van Buren, across Upper Wacker and over the bridge. A few honked their horns as they passed the crowd.

jhilkevitch@tribune.com

Twitter @jhilkevitch

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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