The project will rebuild the Congress Parkway interchange, which connects Interstate 290 to the north-south leg of Chicago’s Wacker Drive, the double-decker downtown artery made famous in the movie “The Blues Brothers.”

Photo: City of Chicago
Rebuilding Wacker Drive’s north-south leg will take about two years.
Chicago’s Wacker Drive played a starring role in “The Blues Brothers.”

After opening the initial round of bids from three prominent Chicago contractors on Feb. 11, the city disqualified two, then rejected the third for being too expensive. The lowest bid, at $73 million, came from a joint venture of F.H Paschen and Cabo Construction Corp. That bid was rejected because the company submitted a bid deposit of $50,000 instead of the required 5%, or $3.6 million. The city engineer's estimate was about $100 million.

The next-lowest bid, $78 million, was submitted by James McHugh Construction Co. The bid was rejected, says Shannon Andrews, spokeswoman for Chicago’s Dept. of Procurement Services, because McHugh didn’t sign a required affirmative-action compliance plan.

The remaining bid, $85 million, came via Walsh Construction Co. The city rejected all three. Walsh subsequently filed a lawsuit claiming it should have been declared the winner, but the city’s rejection of all three bids eliminated the basis for the legal action. The contractors have either not returned ENR’s phone calls or declined to comment.

On April 3, the city will open new bids and expects to award the project shortly thereafter. Work on the two-year reconstruction is expected to begin sometime in June. Rebuilding the interchange will reconfigure ramps to make traffic flow more smoothly and safely. It will also create 3 acres of new green space.

Wacker Drive is a two-level viaduct whose upper level provides six lanes of normal traffic at street level. Its lower level offers express travel for through traffic and access to area buildings for delivery vehicles. Intermittent, center-lane ramps connect the upper and lower levels. About 60,000 vehicles use the drive daily. It is home to a number of Chicago landmarks, including the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower.

Reconstructing the Congress interchange is one of three major projects that together will completely rebuild 1.2 mi of Wacker Drive’s 55-year-old, north-south leg. Its east-west leg was rebuilt in 2002 at a cost of about $200 million. The north-south rebuild is funded for $366 million.

The other two phases will rebuild both levels of the road, add more than a foot of overhead clearance to the lower level, separate the lower level’s through-traffic lanes from the delivery lanes, improve utilities throughout the corridor and replace many of the center ramps with landscaped medians at street level.

T.Y. Lin International designed the new interchange. Alfred Benesch & Co. is designing the first section of Wacker Drive that will be reconstructed. A designer for the second half of the new Wacker Drive has not yet been named.

Chicago Dept. of Transportation says it expects to bid out relocation of underground utilities in April or May of this year, with the work lasting until the end of the year. Bids to reconstruct the northern half of the Wacker Drive project will be solicited this September or October, says Andrews, with work starting in January 2011 and continuing for a year.

No bid date has been set for the contract to reconstruct the southern half of the Wacker Drive project, but the work is expected to run through all of 2012.