End in sight for Wacker Drive construction

End in sight for Wacker Drive construction
A view from Lower South Wacker Drive where the roadway leads to a tunnel to the westbound Eisenhower Expressway. (Alex Garcia, Chicago Tribune)

Construction on the last leg of Wacker Drive ends in late December, capping a decade-long effort to modernize and rehabilitate the historic double-deck boulevard.

Only a handful of projects remain, like finishing up bridge work from Adams to Van Buren streets as well as landscaping and some electrical work at the Congress Parkway Interchange, said Mary Ellen Mack, a construction supervisor with the

Illinois Department of Transportation


At a preview tour on Thursday, Gov.

Pat Quinn

stopped at three sites along Wacker Drive, touting the project’s on-time schedule as he met and thanked construction workers. He said he anticipates that the newly-constructed Wacker will last at least 100 years.

As he stood outside the

Civic Opera House

, Quinn said Wacker Drive needed a “fundamental overhaul” because it’s a vital thoroughfare. About 66,000 vehicles travel Wacker Drive daily, and 140,000 pedestrians, most coming from area train stations, walk along its sidewalks, according to IDOT.

The governor said he’s a big fan of Lower Wacker Drive, which he calls the “eighth wonder of the world.”

“You want to get through Chicago, take Lower Wacker and tell your neighbor how to do it,” Quinn said.

Around 2001, crews reconstructed the east-west section of Wacker Drive, from

Michigan Avenue

to Randolph Street, for about $223 million, said Tony


, IDOT’s acting engineer of project implementation.

Under the $303 million project that launched in April 2010, crews have rebuilt the Congress Parkway Interchange and rehabbed Upper and Lower Wacker Drive from Randolph Street to Congress Boulevard.

Some of the project’s features include a higher ceiling on a widened Lower Wacker Drive, 15-foot sidewalks on Upper Wacker Drive and fewer vehicle entrances to improve safety. Ramps along the Congress Interchange are now partially underground, while above the ramps sit a three-acre park with walking paths, benches and a dog-friendly area.