CHANNAHON – If all goes well, drivers using the Des Plaines River bridge over Interstate 55 will have a smooth drive for Labor Day.
Construction season began last week with southbound traffic being reduced to one lane and delays are expected throughout the corridor between Route 52 and Lorenzo Road.
Last year, sudden backups resulted in 172 crashes in the area between July and November. People were injured in 12 of those crashes, two fatally.
Police issued nearly 5,000 tickets last year with fines starting at $375 for traffic violations in a construction zone.
The number of complaints about traffic delays and safety issues led state Rep. Larry Walsh, D-Elwood, and state Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet, to put together a committee last year. Their study led to the portable “Smart Monitor” signs being set up in both directions to read traffic speed and estimate a time through the zone.
The southbound sign read “7 miles 7 minutes” about 11 a.m. Monday.
“But if that got to more than 50 minutes, they’d instruct drivers to use alternate routes,” Walsh said. “They’re a huge plus for [drivers] who aren’t familiar with the area to know that something’s going on.”
What is going on is the second half of a $7.65 million project to repair the pier, abutment and structural steel of the twin 58-year-old truss bridges. The bridges also are getting new decks and will be repainted, said Illinois Department of Transportation Engineer Vincent Cirrintano.
“Last year, work focused on the southbound bridge. That structure should be ‘finished’ by mid-April, and we’ll begin the crossover to move one lane in each direction on that bridge while we work on the northbound,” Cirrintano said.
The entire project is scheduled to be completed by Sept. 1, although Engineering Supervisor Michael Wiater cautioned workers may discover unanticipated repairs are needed as work gets underway.
“I’ve heard some drivers wonder why they haven’t seen much while everything’s set up, but we’ve been doing a lot of work underneath the bridges,” Wiater said.
The Arsenal Road/I-55 interchange just south of the bridge also will be completed in mid-April with some lanes closed down in that area overnight. Cirrintano said cable guards, traffic sensors, fences and signing will be installed.
“That’s 99 percent completed. There will be some landscaping work going on through May, but that will not impact traffic,” he said.
MGT will relocate a nearby pipeline in June so IDOT can finish paving Arsenal Road east of the interstate. Once IDOT’s work is finished the temporary traffic signals Exxon Mobil has installed on the frontage road will be replaced with permanent ones, Cirrintano said.
Police are patrolling the construction zone around the clock to look for drivers who speed or are distracted with texting or using their cell phones, both of which are illegal.
State police issued 4,836 citations in the construction zone last year, mostly for speeding.
Trooper DeAnn Falat said the first offense in a construction zone carries a minimum fine of $375. The second results in a $1,000 fine and 90-day suspension of your driver’s license.
Construction zone speed limits are in effect at all hours, not just when workers are present, since nine out of 10 crashes in zones don’t involve workers, according to IDOT.
“We have changing surfaces, different lighting patterns. The 24-hour speed enforcement is there to protect drivers as much as workers,” said Mike Sturino, president of the Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association.
Drivers are required to slow down for vehicles using emergency lights and change lanes away from them if possible. That law also applies to tow trucks and maintenance vehicles.
“Work zones are dangerous. People need to pay attention and we all have to share the road,” Walsh said.
I-55 Des Plaines River Bridge Construction Zone Data:
Citations issued between July to November 2013: 4,836
Warnings issued: 699
Speed warnings: 54
Other drugs and alcohol: 8
No insurance: 384
No seat belts: 152
Distracted driving (including texting): 355
Distracted driving warnings: 44
Motorist assist calls: 497
Source: Illinois State Police District 5