South Lake Shore Drive extension opening in next couple of weeks

The extension, built to fit into Chicago's street grid system rather than be a controlled-access roadway like other parts of Lake Shore Drive, was designed to handle about 27,000 vehicles a day, Sadler said.

Traffic signals and pedestrian signals at east-west streets (83rd, 85th, 87th and 89th) are interconnected to provide smooth traffic flow on the new part of South Lake Shore even at 30 mph, Sadler said. Vehicle-detection cameras are mounted overhead so that signals at the cross streets will operate based on the presence of drivers and pedestrians rather than cycle through on set timings, he said.

Officials are confident the extension will help absorb some traffic that now uses neighborhood streets, but they also say drivers should not consider the extension a high-speed shortcut.

"The new section of South Lake Shore Drive will provide an arterial-boulevard hybrid,'' Burke said. "If you are interested in a 30 mph beautiful drive, it is certainly a route you should consider taking. For ease and quickness of access, we would encourage drivers to remain on the expressway system."

Now that the 2.08-mile extension is about to open, expectations go far beyond it being a traffic-easing bypass road on the relocated U.S. 41.

Transportation officials, South Chicago residents and real estate developers are banking on the South Lake Shore Drive extension fostering a rebirth of Chicago's far south lakefront.

"This piece of land was basically behind walls for 100 years,'' said real estate developer Dan McCaffery, who has been concentrating for almost nine years on remaking the South Works site into a development he calls Chicago Lakeside.

"You practically had to go in a four-wheeler to take someone to the site. Now, I will be able to show retailers and potential home builders and research center builders: 'Here is your access. And there is the Chicago Skyway, 1 mile away. You can go north on Lake Shore Drive for 9 miles and you are in the Loop. Here are all the east-west connecting streets,'" said McCaffery, chairman and CEO of McCaffery Interests Inc.

McCaffery said he is involved in talks with companies to launch the project by building "a major retail center, a large data center and a research center."

He believes the initial development would be strongly supported by the large population west of the former South Works site, and that residential construction would follow.

He declined to identify any of the parties, saying only, "So when you ask me, 'Is there a viable plan?' God, yes. We have spent $30 million in the planning already."

He said the entire development will be built on the principles of sustainability, from having its own power generation and water reclamation systems to broadband across the 600-acre site, which is currently a joint venture between McCaffery Interests and U.S. Steel.

Others see McCaffery's unrealized dreams as a tall order.

"There is no doubt the South Lake Shore Drive extension is key to McCaffery having any success in building that whole complex out there, which I always found to be uncertain in attracting thousands of people to buy houses and move to that part of the city,'' said Neal Samors, co-author of "Chicago's Lake Shore Drive: Urban America's Most Beautiful Roadway.''

To anybody who will listen, McCaffery is also pitching the site as the future home of the Barack Obama presidential library.

 

"The Obama library location has the potential to be one of the most dramatic structures on the lakefront and in the community that first elected him to public office,'' McCaffery said. "If that happened, it would blow the socks off the whole Southeast Side of Chicago.''

Contact Getting Around at jhilkevitch@tribune.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.

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