Lower Wacker Drive to reopen soon

The Lower Wacker entrance ramp onto westbound Congress and the eastbound Congress exit ramp at Franklin Street have been moved below ground. The Lower Wacker ramp will have a longer acceleration lane to make it easier for drivers to find an opening in traffic, officials said.

The Franklin ramp onto westbound Congress has been removed, eliminating the double-merge with the Lower Wacker ramp onto westbound Congress.

"That was a big accident location," Woods said. "It's going to be a much safer transition from Lower Wacker on to the Eisenhower."

Previously, "you came out of the cloverleaf and you just kind of had to punch it to merge into traffic," she said. "Now we've got a nice long taper lane, and you don't have to worry about other traffic coming from Franklin, so it's going to be a very easy transition."

Replacing cloverleaf ramps with tunnels also provided space for three acres of new parkland that's accessible to the public, officials said.

During the first week of December, Franklin, which during reconstruction has been a two-way street from Wacker to Van Buren, will revert back to one-way northbound, officials said.

As part of the change, a bicycle lane will be added on Franklin, officials said.

"We think the bike lane is going to be very well received," Woods said.

As the two-year north-south leg of the Wacker project wraps up, except for landscaping scheduled for the spring, officials said drivers and others are already benefiting from improvements on Upper Wacker from Randolph to Congress.

Ramps to Lower Wacker at Jackson, Adams and Washington Street have been removed and replaced with landscaped medians. Upper Wacker Drive was decorated with sidewalk planters and outfitted with decorative light fixtures.

The ramp at Monroe Street was replaced with a new one-way ramp to Lower Wacker.

The east-west section of Wacker from Michigan Avenue to Randolph was rebuilt in 2001 and 2002, restoring the historical limestone elements of Wacker's original 1920s appearance. The project also widened the road, raised lower-level ceiling clearances and carved out space for expansion of the Chicago riverwalk.

Meanwhile, construction is scheduled to begin next year on a new transportation center across the street from Union Station.

The Chicago City Council last month approved the plan, which will provide a sheltered staging area for CTA buses. Goals include easing traffic congestion and improving pedestrian safety along the Canal corridor and creating a staging area for a future CTA bus rapid-transit network to serve the central Loop, officials said.

The transportation center will replace a parking lot that is south of Jackson between Canal and Clinton streets, officials said.

The facility will include a connection to an existing Amtrak underground passageway so commuters can go between Union Station and the transportation center without crossing Canal and Jackson at street level.

The project is estimated to cost $14.2 million, said officials, adding it is 80 percent federally funded. Completion is slated for 2014.

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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