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As Kennedy Expressway construction begins, drivers urged to seek other options

Three-year construction project begins on Kennedy Expressway
Three-year construction project begins on Kennedy Expressway 03:11

CHICAGO (CBS) – If you think traffic on the Kennedy Expressway is bad now, get ready for the next three years.

A major three-year, $150 million construction project starts Monday night, which will close two lanes of the busy expressway at a time for repairs.

First full day of repairs on Kennedy Expressway 01:24

Crews were working Tuesday morning as commuters headed out for the day. CBS 2's Jackie Kostek reported live from the Kennedy Expressway where traffic was building on the first full day of repairs. 

The next time Chicago will see a construction-free Kennedy like we saw earlier on Monday, we'll have had two new Olympic Games and a presidential election.

The first orange construction cones came out Monday night to start blocking off two lanes of a portion of the Kennedy Expressway. Crews will keep adding cones until about 7.5 miles are shut down.

The first lanes to undergo renovations will be the leftmost two inbound lanes starting where the Edens and the Kennedy merge all the way down to Ohio Street. That work will continue until July.

Kennedy Expressway construction to bring traffic and headaches for drivers 02:59

The goal is to redo the top 2 inches of concrete to fix and fill all potholes and to work on two lanes at a time.

The Illinois Department of Transportation will turn the express lanes into inbound-only lanes to help make up for the two lanes under construction.

"That's going to be kind of irritating," said Damarrea Fox, who drives on the Kennedy.

Rojerick Jenkins, another commuter, added, "It seems like it's going to get worse. It has been getting worse. I don't know if it's an influx of people?"

Major construction project begins on Kennedy Expressway 01:56

The express lanes will remain inbound for the entire time crews are working in the inbound direction.

When the work is complete on the leftmost lanes, the two right local lanes get coned off and reconstructed. That phase will take up year one.

Next in 2024, IDOT will close the express lanes to fix those. That will take another year.

The process will be repeated for the outbound lanes during year three.

The project has 36 bridge structures factored in - and a total reconstruction of the driving decks that haven't seen one in over 50 years.

IDOT is already encouraging anyone who commutes on the Kennedy to start thinking about other options.

"If possible, try to adjust the times you come in," said Maria Castaneda, an IDOT spokeswoman. "Perhaps maybe come in a couple hours earlier than you normally would, a couple of hours after the time you normally would, or if you have the ability to be able to do remote. That's definitely a good alternative. In addition, using public transportation, if it's available to you, is also a good alternative."

When your phone's traffic map shows red on the Kennedy for heavy traffic, the best alternative is Elston Avenue running just north and east of the expressway – the most direct plan B, and also and also likely the most congested.

Milwaukee Avenue just south and west of the expressway is also a pretty solid alternative - but it has extensive construction of its own to contend with.

For those closest to the lakeshore DuSable Lake Shore Drive is likely going to be attractive - and will be used a lot more than it is now.

And if you can swing it, remember that much of the Kennedy is split in half by the CTA Blue Line.  So if you've stared at trains moving faster than your car for years and never rode the rails, this might be the push you need.

The CTA said there are no plans to add more train cars, but additional service changes are in the works in the coming weeks to increase Blue Line capacity.

The CTA also said it is encouraging potential riders to travel outside of peak hours and reminds them that the Blue Line isn't the only alternative option.

Metra is also preparing for a spike in passengers - as a three-year new normal starts rolling.

Pace is also welcoming new riders via bus.

For those on the Far Northwest Side with relatively easy access to the Eisenhower Expressway, that too could become attractive.  

The project has 36 bridge structures factored in - and a total reconstruction of the driving decks that haven't seen one in over 50 years.  

IDOT expressed confidence it can stick to the three-year plan.

"A lot of times, projects when you're involving some of the unknown, it does tend to sometimes add more time, but this one, they have more of an idea of exactly what they can expect," Castaneda said.

She added, it's been almost 30 years since the Kennedy had a major rehabilitation, "So it's going to need to be repaired."

As Kennedy Expressway construction begins, drivers urged to seek other options 03:10
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