It’s one of the most congested, confounding and accident prone intersections in the city.
Every day an average of 70,000 drivers get delayed and frustrated by the asphalt tentacles of the six corner, three way monster of an intersection of Damen-Elston-Fullerton, on the western edge of Lincoln Park.
“Our office gets more calls from drivers about this intersection than anything else,” says 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack saying the traffic has gotten worse over the past few years. “Due to the vast amount of development that went on in past years, all these people (in the ward) get to the highway using this intersection.”
But Wednesday afternoon, the city formally announced its plans for a bold and dramatic reconfiguration of this troublesome intersection at a public hearing held at the Bucktown-Wicker Park Library at 1701 N. Milwaukee Ave.
The plan calls for detouring Elston Ave. north of Fullerton and rerouting it west and eventually dog-legging south until it ultimately links back with Elston’s current diagonal path on the other side of Fullerton.
The idea to address the issues of this problematic intersection has been discussed for years, but after Ald. Waguespack came into office in 2006, he made it one of his priorities. Now after several years of discussions, planning and meetings with the Chicago Department of Transportation and the public, the plans for the intersection were unveiled at this open house.
This plan to streamline a chaotic six-corner intersection into three distinct four corner intersections was chosen over competing plans to build an overpass or an underpass on Fullerton.
While the other plans would require two to three years of construction and not necessarily solve all the problems with the status quo, this proposal would only require a year of road work.
But, the proposed reroute would require the city to acquire and demolish select buildings and displace several businesses in the path of the proposed Elston bypass. This includes cutting into a building owned by Midtown Tennis Club at Damen & Elston, land owned by Vienna Beef at 2501 N. Damen, and completely demolishing the buildings currently housing Whirly Ball at 1880 W. Fullerton and Dunkin’ Donuts located at 1927 W. Fullerton.
“Of course the businesses affected were disappointed,” said Chriss Wuellner of CDOT. “However, we will be able to provide relocation assistance.”
Waguespack plans to work with displaced businesses to try to relocate them within the ward or nearby.
“I’d like to keep them in the area,” said Waguespack.
Ald. Waguespack, along with CDOT staff and personnel from Benesch, the engineering firm hired for the project, cited safety concerns and traffic delays as the two major reasons for the necessitating the project.
This location is consistently in the city’s top 10 intersections for collisions, ranking as high as number two over the past decade. The massive intersection which sees nearly a half million vehicles per week, logged 90 crashes just last year, or just under two per week.
In addition, due to the six legs of the intersection, the short distances between lights which lead to backups up to a half-mile in either direction, insufficient turning radii for large trucks, delays getting through the Damen-Elston-Fullerton intersection can take up to seven minutes at peak traffic times.
Project planners believe the Elston bypass plan will reduce delays from top times of seven minutes to as little as 30 seconds at peak traffic times. Breaking up the six way intersection should result in much fewer accidents as well.
The estimated cost of the project is $32 million with financing coming from federal highway funds, TIF funds and city capital improvement budgets according to Waguespack.
If it is passed and funded, project planners hope to start construction by 2013 and be completed in about a year in 2014.
The public can comment on the project by May 13th.