Local road construction will power forward this summer

2011-05-26T20:00:00Z 2011-06-06T03:35:04Z Local road construction will power forward this summerBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

The eight-year reconstruction of the Borman Expressway will wrap up in June with completion of the $189 million Interstate 65 interchange, but other road projects will present challenges for motorists throughout the region this summer and beyond.

Those range from other mega-projects such as the $250 million lane expansion of the Indiana Toll Road in Northwest Indiana to local projects such as the town of Griffith's complete rebuild of Broad Street in the heart of its downtown business district.

"It makes sense to do a project like this all at once, but it is hard on our businesses," said Griffith Public Works Director Rick Konopasek. "But it will look real sharp once that project is complete."

Hardship now, payoff later is a theme reiterated by transportation agencies across the region. That's why they say they will push on with projects that have drivers cursing as they wait in lines of traffic or swerving through lane shifts sandwiched by semi-trailers.

"From our perspective when we can finish a big project like the one on the Borman Expressway this summer, we hope people will realize how huge the benefit is," said Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Jim Pinkerton.

With a host of road projects still in high gear across Lake and Porter counties, INDOT won't even be taking time for a sigh of relief when the Borman project is done. In fact, INDOT will undertake $1.5 billion in road projects this year, the highest figure yet in the 10-year Major Moves program, Pinkerton said.

The agency is expected to embark on another mega-project in the region this summer when it finally renders a decision on what to do about the condemned Cline Avenue bridge.

The two options now on the table are construction of a $70 million permanent detour or construction of a new bridge, a project that is sure to cost more than $100 million if previous INDOT estimates are accurate.

The harsh winter only has added to the work to be done on roads across the region, with ITR Concession Co., the private operator of the Indiana Toll Road, kicking its annual pothole and pavement replacement program into high gear, according to ITR Concession spokeswoman Amber Kettring. The bulk of that work will take place in Northwest Indiana from the Illinois border to milepost 30, just west of Portage.

But even that project is dwarfed by the $250 million third-lane expansion in Northwest Indiana that ITR Concession hopes to wrap up by year-end. That project has motorists reducing speed to 45 mph from milepost 10 to milepost 15 and shifting lanes on the milepost 12 bridge.

"Definitely use caution, use defensive driving techniques, leave space between your vehicle and the one in front," Kettring said in offering some words of caution.

Holiday travel

On the traditional Memorial Day weekend kickoff to the summer travel season, the American Automobile Association is forecasting 30.9 million people will drive 50 miles or more from home. That is down just a tick from last year's 31 million. Average regular gas prices of $3.96 per gallon in Indiana and $4.17 in Illinois have affected the travel plans of about 40 percent of drivers.

Motorists will get a small break over the Memorial Day weekend, when INDOT, the Indiana Toll Road, and the Illinois Department of Transportation impose construction moratoriums.

But they won't be getting any break from police agencies, which use federal grants to swarm the roadways day and night with traffic, sobriety, and seat belt checks as the holiday approaches.

In Indiana, the enforcement effort began May 20, with the Indiana State Police conducting sobriety checkpoints in Lake County. On the same day they kicked of a "Click It or Ticket" seatbelt campaign with 250 other law enforcement agencies. That will run though June 5. And on Monday, an accident reduction enforcement sweep began and will finish Memorial Day.

In Illinois, state police joined forces with more than 500 other law enforcement agencies and began their own "Click It or Ticket" seat belt enforcement campaign May 13 with its final wrap up on Memorial Day weekend. Statewide, there will be more than 1,200 seat-belt enforcement zones and 1,000 seat belt saturation patrols, according to Illinois State Police. More than 50 percent of the patrols will be in the late night/very early morning hours.

"The simplest and single most effective way of protecting our family members during a crash is to ensure they are wearing their seat belts every trip, every time," said Illinois State Police Director Hiram Grau.

Projects in the Land of Lincoln

Despite state budget troubles, the Illinois Department of Transportation continues to go full-speed ahead with projects to expand, rehabilitate and maintain state roadways, according to IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell. The projects continue to be funded by Gov. Quinn's $31 billion Illinois Jobs Now six-year capital program passed in 2009.

"We've seen some of the biggest construction seasons in our history in the past two years," Tridgell said.

Those include the $33 million rehabilitation of the inbound Congress Parkway bridge in Chicago this year with the rehabilitation of the outbound section to follow in the fall. Completion of the full project is slated for 2012.

That project has kept inbound ramps of the Dan Ryan (Interstate 90/94) and Kennedy expressways closed for more than a year. Those ramps will remain closed until the inbound project completion in September.

The project has widespread significance to drivers in surrounding states because inbound Congress Parkway is a main gateway to Chicago's downtown and lakefront attractions.

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