Updated 10/31/11 - 6:35 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) -- A road construction project beginning today on Lake Shore Drive could have a major impact this winter.
New "turnarounds" will be created as an escape route in bad weather, to avoid another fiasco like the February, 2011 blizzard that stranded drivers on the Drive.
That blizzard shut Lake Shore Drive for 33 hours, with hundreds of cars stuck for hours --waiting for a rescue that never came, CBS 2's Roseanne Tellez reports.
Chicagoans are used to snow blowing on Lake Shore Drive in storms. But nothing prepared the city for the perfect storm of non-stop snow, dangerous winds, and several crashes that brought traffic to a complete standstill.
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As the accidents and snow piled up, so did the cars, closing the drive by 8 p.m.
Fire and police were left to rescue stranded motorists. Hundreds of cars were simply left there until the storm had passed.
The construction project designed to prevent such problems in the future involves creating escape routes for drivers.
Two openings will be installed - one at Armitage Avenue and the other at Schiller Street-- along the median.
Both areas are known for drifting snow. Moveable concrete barriers will be used in emergencies only to allow cars to turn around and exit.
As CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports, sometimes it's what you don't see that's even more important – in this case, the lines of communication; actual eyes on the road who'll be relied upon to describe exactly what's going on outside.
When an articulated bus crashed on Lake Shore Drive during the blizzard, all northbound lanes were blocked, leaving no escape route. Making the situation worse, the traffic jam clearly confused 911 operators, who took calls from those stranded in the snow.
Gary Schenkel, executive director of the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications said, "It appears from the conversations that we've had that we have a much more direct line of communication now than we had at that time."
Schenkel, a Marine Corps veteran and former Homeland Security executive, was brought in after the mayor toured OEMC in May and was briefed on the blizzard plan in June.
"The cutouts are extremely important, but the communication is the biggest part," Schenkel said.
The two new cutouts in the continuous divider will allow police to redirect traffic in the event of any emergency. Cutouts already existed on the South Side, at 35th street and at 43rd street. The south stretch of the Drive also has full intersections at 57th Drive and at Hayes Drive to allow for traffic to turn around or exit the drive in an emergency.
But the accident during the blizzard was on the North Side, in an area prone to wind, water, and snow. The two new turnarounds would be the first such cutouts on the north end of the Drive.
"For this winter, we look at the turnarounds and an orderly plan, with caution being the watchword," U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said. "And then long-term … I would like to see the Army Corps (of Engineers) or CDOT (Chicago Department of Transportation) look at where water or potential snow represents the greatest danger to the drive, long-term."
Kirk also discussed possibly adding some kind of setback or barriers to protect the drive from snow and ice.
Schenkel's concerns were more immediate and will rely heavily on CTA and Streets and Sanitation Department drivers – and police and fire personnel – to paint a more current and accurate picture of what's happening in real time.
During construction of the new turnarounds, the inside lanes of Lake Shore Drive, between Armitage and Goethe, will be closed in both directions. The other lanes will remain open during the work
This project comes after much analysis of what went wrong back in February. Besides the turnarounds, CTA buses will now be re-routed in snow emergencies and the Drive will be closed altogether much earlier, if needed.
The construction is scheduled to be done by the end of November.
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