The Chicago Dept. of Transportation’s Wabash Avenue Underbridge Connection and Riverwalk project built the longest stretch of Chicago Riverwalk to date. The $9.5-million project consists of rehabilitation of the existing river wall and pedestrian walk, as well as new construction along the south bank of the Chicago River from State Street Bridge, under Wabash Avenue Bridge, and extending toward Michigan Avenue.

Wabash Avenue Underbridge Connection and Riverwalk
Photo courtesy Rausch Construction Co. Inc.

Work began with demolition of existing landscaping, sidewalks, sheet pile caps, granite pavers, and lighting.

Key Players

Owner: Chicago Department of Transportation
General Contractor: Rausch Construction Co. Inc., Broadview, Ill.
Design Firm: Ross Barney Architects, Chicago

Then, about 35,000 sq ft of sheet-pile wall, more than 630 linear ft, was driven to extend the riverwalk 17 additional feet into the river.

Because several buildings along Wacker drive use river water in their mechanical systems, divers worked underwater to extend intake and discharge pipes from the existing dock wall through the newly constructed sheet-pile wall. To minimize time and cost, pipe runs were fabricated on land so that only the final connections had to be made underwater.

The area between the existing dockwall and new sheet-pile wall was then backfilled with more than 9,000 tons of granular fill.

Construction of sheet-pile caps, structural slabs, and concrete sidewalks followed the backfilling.

Because concrete caps for the sheet piling would extend a foot below river level, Rausch designed custom forms that could be placed and secured from above, eliminating the need to have divers install the forms or be involved in concrete pours.

The popular pedestrian walkway, recreational area, and tourist destination was completed with amenities like granite and limestone benches, new metal handrails, site lighting, and landscaping.

The stainless-steel Wabash underbridge canopy not only protects pedestrians from falling debris, it also offers an interesting visual contrast to the historic bridge above.

The Riverwalk creates an uninterrupted public pedestrian path away from the automobile traffic on the upper level.

Its low granite walls, used both for seating and planting beds, step out of ramped walkways leading to and from the river’s edge.

The Chicago Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fountain is an educational memorial to the war veterans.

Trees and mixed border plantings along the walk provide a calming connection to nature.

The project has helped the city realize its vision of transforming the river into a recreational area.

The construction team planned a phased delivery so the community could start enjoying the new riverwalk as soon as possible.