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Plans to Rebuild Parts of Illinois Hillside Strangler

Illinois Tollway officials are asking for public input on its plan to redo the interchange between Interstates 294, 290, and 88 west of Chicago

July 24, 2017

Rocco Zucchero, deputy chief of engineering for planning at the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority, is asking for input on how to fix the highway interchange where I-294, the I-88 tollway, and I-290 merge into one of the worst traffic bottlenecks in the country.

The interchange has a long history of poor design and awful traffic, going back at least 50 years. Efforts to relieve the pressure from three major highways onto the inbound Eisenhower Expressway to Chicago have never really fulfilled their promise. For decades, 294, I-88 and I-290 tried to merge traffic - up to 300,000 cars per day - into one single lane going under a railroad underpass, thus earning the name The Hillside Strangler.

The most recent configuration redirects trucks from northbound 294 to westbound 290 in a circular loop on a descending grade. The speed limit on the ramp is 20 mph, so large trucks are forced to slow down to make the tight curve, causing cars to back up on the ramp behind them.

Illinois Tollway officials want to eliminate the circular ramp and replace it with a more direct ramp that would go north under 294 and merge with I-290, on the west side of I-294. The new ramp would be designed for a higher speed limit, such as 40 to 50 mph, which also should help reduce the backups that occur at the interchange.

"It's a simpler design that tollway officials expect to result in a huge improvement in traffic flow," Zucchero said.

While they're at it, the tollway authority is looking at a section of the interchange that causes motorists to play a highspeed game of chicken when they try to exit 294 to get on I-88. The design of the existing interchange directs vehicles going east on I-290 to merge with southbound traffic on I-294. Vehicles come onto southbound I-294 as I-290 drivers are trying to move into the far right-hand lanes to get onto westbound I-88.

The tollway is proposing to build a barrier wall that would separate traffic into dedicated lanes for going south on I-294 or to go west on I-88, so drivers would not be competing to move in and out of lanes, Zucchero said.

The project is two months into the federal review process. I-290 is under the Federal Highway Administration's jurisdiction, so that agency must sign off on any Illinois Tollway concept plans. After the FHWA approves the plan, the Illinois Tollway will fine tune its part of the design.

The Illinois Tollway is funding these projects as part of its plan to rebuild a 22-mile span of the Central Tri-State Tollway which will also include widening the road through Hinsdale, Western Springs and Indian Head park.

Public meetings regarding the project are expected and Zucchero said, "We want to know what the public thinks." Interested parties are encouraged to send comments to to I-290-88info@getipass.com.

Once the FHWA approves the preliminary design, the tollway authority expects to begin construction in 2022 and hopes it will be complete by 2025.

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