Starting Thursday, November 1, the Chicago Avenue bridge will close to all traffic as crews demolish the 104-year-old bascule bridge connecting River North and River West. A temporary replacement bridge—parts of which are already being staged nearby—is slated to open early next year.
In the meantime, the loss of the narrow albeit vital two-lane bridge across the Chicago River’s north branch will have a considerable impact on nearby traffic. North Avenue, Division Street, and Grand Avenue are all expected to serve as east-west detour routes for cars, buses, trucks, bikes, and pedestrians.
A temporary shared bus and bike lane will be installed in both directions on Halsted Street between Chicago and Division. This new lane will occupy space currently reserved by curbside parking and is not expected to disrupt existing traffic patterns.
Chicago Department of Transportation encourages the 15,000 bus riders that use Chicago Avenue corridor each day to allow for extra travel time during this period. Drivers are likely to face similar delays.
Beyond inconveniencing residents and commuters, the demolition of the existing Chicago Avenue bridge represents a blow to preservationists. The historic structure, built in 1914 by Ketler-Elliot, is one of the oldest pony truss bascule bridges in Chicago and is eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
The city, as required by law, issued a public notice earlier this year offering the deteriorated riveted steel structure for free—provided the new owner cover its removal and preservation costs. So far, no parties have come forward to claim the century-old piece of Chicago infrastructure.
A group known as Friends of Goose Island had shown early interest in repurposing the Chicago Avenue Bridge into a new bike and pedestrian connection at Blackhawk Street. The coalition of developers, business owners, and landowners abandoned their initial plan due to the bridge’s poor condition. The group is now looking at the aging Division Street bridge to fill the role.
Following the installation of its temporary replacement, a newer, permanent Chicago Avenue bridge is expected to open in 2021. It will provide two traffic lanes in each direction, effectively doubling the capacity of the current outgoing structure.
A wider connection will meet the needs of current developments like the adjacent Montgomery Ward warehouse turned Groupon HQ at 600 W. Chicago Avenue as well as future mixed-use projects such as 700 W. Chicago Avenue and the massive, multiphase River District.
The new Chicago Avenue bridge will be joined by additional traffic improvements to the east as part of the One Chicago Square skyscraper development. Further west, the roadway’s No. 66 CTA bus line is set to receive service upgrades ahead of a proposed expansion of the city’s Transit Oriented Development (TOD) ordinance to high-volume bus routes.
The new Chicago Avenue bridge and its interim placeholder are designed to be fixed and will not articulate like their double-bascule predecessor. As the North Branch Corridor continues its move away from heavy industry, the need to accommodate large industrial vessels on the waterway has all but disappeared.
- Want to own a historic Chicago bridge? [Curbed Chicago]
- Historic Chicago Avenue Bridge Targeted for Demolition [Preservation Chicago]