Reconstructing The Dan Ryan

Story by Tom Hale | September 28, 2010

Reconstruction of the Dan Ryan Expressway (I-94/90), the biggest and most complicated highway project ever in the Chicago area, is moving ahead with work now approximately 50-percent complete. Crews are performing major surgery on the $600-million, 9-mile project, "which basically runs from 18th Street all the way down to the I-57/Bishop Ford (I-94) split," says Jacek Tyszkiewicz, P.E., engineer of project implementation for the Illinois Department of Transportation's (IDOT) District 1. "We're currently in the second year of a three-year reconstruction project."

As the state agency's chief construction engineer for District 1, Tyszkiewicz is responsible for overseeing a mammoth reconstruction project that features the construction of an additional lane in each direction to reduce congestion on the highway, a reconfigured Chicago Skyway (I-90) interchange, and enhancements to the local access roads that run parallel to the expressway. The project is intended to greatly reduce traffic congestion and reduce accident rates, rebuild deteriorating pavement, and reduce severe flooding on the busiest expressway in the Chicago area and one of the most heavily traversed urban highway segments in the world.

The Dan Ryan, the city's major transportation artery from downtown Chicago through the heart of the city's South Side, was designed and built from 1961 to 1963; it features 14 lanes with seven-lane widths in each direction split into four lanes of high-speed through traffic and three lanes of local traffic. Today, traffic on the Dan Ryan has more than doubled — up to 320,000 vehicles per day from 150,000 in the 1960s, and the Dan Ryan has surpassed its intended design life by more than 20 years. While the expressway was resurfaced several times, the base of the expressway never was replaced.

To rejuvenate the 40-year-plus expressway, IDOT embarked on ambitious plan. The scope of the project includes reconstructing the existing northbound and southbound express lanes and local lanes — including an additional lane in each direction from 47th to 63rd streets and an additional lane in each direction from 67th to 95th streets; improving frontage roads; and constructing new retaining walls and rehabilitating/modifying several existing walls. In addition, the project includes enhanced sewers to correct drainage problems and reduce flooding on the expressway; reconfiguring ramps to improve traffic merges; installing higher barrier walls along the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) train line to prevent cars from going on to the track; updating highway lighting and overhead message signs; landscaping; and other incidental work.

When the project is completed in November 2007, drivers will enjoy safer driving conditions with improved traffic flow and enhanced road appearance. And IDOT says the advanced engineering design will reduce the number of accidents and bottlenecks in traffic flow.

In addition to making the city's busiest expressway wider and safer, the project also involves transforming the Dan Ryan into a thicker, more durable roadway. "The decision was made early in the design to have a full cross section of new pavement across the local and express lanes," notes Tyszkiewicz. "The existing pavement was pretty distressed. We had some significant problems about 10 years ago when it unraveled after a very bad winter storm. Also, there isn't enough drainage along the expressway."

He adds, "The old pavement was designed for 150,000 vehicles per year, and it was never designed for the magnitude of truck traffic that moves over it. This is one of the more heavily traveled truck corridors in the country, with truck traffic representing at least 10 percent of the total traffic."

The new Dan Ryan pavement will have a 30-year design life, and features heftier layers of concrete, asphalt and aggregate — the finished product will be almost 4 feet thick. "We are putting in a new 24-inch subgrade, using mostly reclaimed concrete from the original concrete from 1961," says Tyszkiewicz. "A crusher, set up at 43rd and Federal, crushes the concrete to gradation. The subgrade is capped with RAP, and then 6 inches of asphalt binder material are placed. On top of that goes 14 inches of continuously reinforced concrete. So, the pavement has an overall thickness of 44 inches."

Thousands and thousands of square yards of new concrete pavement will be placed during the reconstruction project. According to Tyszkiewicz, more than 230,000 square yards of concrete was in place as of mid-August.

Myriad Of Reconstruction Activities

Reconstruction of the Dan Ryan Expressway began in 2004. IDOT spent the first year of the project preparing the Dan Ryan corridor for the 2006 and 2007 mainline work. "The first year we picked up and reconstructed many of the exit and entrance ramps, and worked on the frontage roads," says Tyszkiewicz. "We also worked on all the retaining walls."

Since then, substantial reconstruction has taken place on the Dan Ryan, including work on the Chicago Skyway/Dan Ryan interchange. The interchange was rebuilt and reconfigured to provide an additional entrance ramp from the Skyway to the northbound Dan Ryan express lanes.

Through 2007, the expressway will remain chopped in half with motorists basically traveling three lanes in each direction as the project moves forward. The Dan Ryan is a beehive of construction activity, with a myriad of reconstruction activities taking place in all sections of the project under a series of contracts.

"There is about $200 million worth of work going on this year, and next year there will be another $150 million to $200 million worth of work," Tyszkiewicz points out.

More than 50 contracts (big and small) have been awarded thus far for the three-year project, and by the time work is completed in late 2007 that number will climb to more than 100. Walsh Construction, Chicago, was the recipient of five main contracts, including northbound and southbound mainline paving and construction of a 2-mile, elevated bridge deck carrying Dan Ryan northbound from 15th Street to 28th Street.

Approximately 150 to 250 workers participate in the Dan Ryan project at any given time. Contractors are working two 10-hour shifts, six days a week, and multiple drainage crews have worked on Sundays to make up time.

A Team Effort

Tyszkiewicz is pleased with the pace of the Dan Ryan reconstruction and is proud of the project team. "I've got a good team, and I'm just trying to keep everybody focused on the work ahead," he says. "It is a big challenge working on a project of this magnitude — reconstructing one of the busiest highways in the country in a major metropolitan area. What we are doing here is phenomenal."

Tyszkiewicz, a 27-1/2-year IDOT veteran who has held several top management positions with the department, is orchestrating the project with help from five resident engineers and five assistant engineers. To coordinate activities, IDOT officials conduct weekly progress and traffic coordination meetings with key project participants.

For the Dan Ryan, partnering has been an effective tool for coordinating construction, evaluating progress, and breaking down communication barriers. For instance, IDOT has worked extensively with federal, state and city agencies — such as the Chicago Transit Authority, who has a train line that runs through the project — to coordinate activities and to minimize disruption to area residents.

Effective Communication Tools

Tackling a project as complex as the Dan Ryan is no easy task. But thanks to very effective traffic control and communications programs, and a strong partnership among IDOT, engineering consultants, contractors, and the public, the project is proceeding as planned. The project team is committed to informing and involving citizens in the Dan Ryan project. "It is important to make sure that there is input and that everybody is aware of what is going on here," Tyszkiewicz says.

To increase public awareness about the project, IDOT initiated a major public outreach campaign which has helped alleviate concerns about the project. The campaign, which began prior to the project's start, has informed residents and motorists about stage changes during the reconstruction and about potential delays and alternative routes.

"We want to make sure that motorists, the community and the aldermen know exactly what we are doing, and that there are no surprises," says Tyszkiewicz. "We are very conscious of our neighbors and the motoring public, and we are trying hard to make this project as painless as possible. We have made a very extensive outreach to everybody. I think we are getting the message out about the stage changes, and traffic is moving reasonably well through the alternates and through the mainline reconstruction."

In addition to traffic control, IDOT and the Dan Ryan project team have faced other challenges on the project, including weather. "We had a wet spring, and that held us back a bit," says Tyszkiewicz. "However, we were doing demo work and hauling, and we weren't pouring concrete at the time."

Tyszkiewicz says the project's biggest delay came when crews hit rock while digging on a portion of the expressway. "We hit rock for a half-mile to a mile in length," he says. "It was a slow go. Because the pavement profile provides for more subgrade, more concrete and more asphalt, we have to dig lower and remove the clay. In this case, when we went lower there was a large rock shelf, and we had to drill it out."

Environmentally Friendly

The Dan Ryan Expressway project has been recognized as one of the largest green construction projects in the nation. Under IDOT's Clean Air Construction Initiative, which is designed to maintain the health and wellness of residents during road construction, heavy construction equipment on the project has been retrofitted with devices (scrubbers) designed to reduce harmful emissions and are using ultra low sulfur diesel fuel which is significantly cleaner than regular diesel fuel. IDOT also instituted idling limits and dust controls in order to reduce construction-related air emissions.

"We are using sensors to monitor the air everywhere," says Tyszkiewicz. "We are also using five water trucks to control dust. We are very conscious about the environment, and we just don't go out on the job and take things for granted."

Plenty Of Work

Jacek Tyszkiewicz is a busy man. Including the Dan Ryan reconstruction project, Kennedy Expressway resurfacing and I-55 advance work, he is overseeing more than 300 contracts in the six-county District 1 territory, which includes Cook, McHenry, Lake, Kane, DuPage, and Will counties. "Right now, I've got about $1 billion worth of work on my table, with approximately $500,000 of contracted work just for this calendar year," he says.

Tyszkiewicz has been guiding the final segments of the $430-million Kingery Expressway (I-80/94) reconstruction project that runs from west of Illinois Route 394 to U.S. 41 in Indiana. "By early November, we should have all the lanes open on the new pavement," he says. "The only section that we need to carry into next year is the Indiana portion. This is a really nice looking project; when we get it done it is going to be very impressive."

This 6.6-mile Kingery project has involved the reconstruction and widening of I-80/94, providing four travel lanes in each direction; reconstruction and improvement of the I-80 interchange with I-94/IL 394 and the I-80/94 interchange at IL 83 (Torrence Avenue); widening and reconstruction of I-94/IL 394 from U.S. 6 (159th Street) to Lansing Road; installation of mast tower lighting; building retaining and sound walls to reduce expressway noise in surrounding residential areas; and the addition of roadside protective devices (guardrails and barrier walls).