ELGIN – A $95 million makeover of the Fox River Bridge in Elgin could mean fewer traffic disruptions along Interstate 90 and stronger environmental protections once the rebuild project concludes in late 2016.
The largest construction project to date in the Illinois Tollway Authority’s $2.5 billion plan to widen I-90 from Chicago to Rockford began last month with initial utility work.
The work will intensify in the coming months, when crews start tackling the lengthy list of improvements to the 56-year-old I-90 bridge that carries 101,300 vehicles daily across the Fox River.
“Although we call it the Fox River Bridge, we’re actually building two new, wider bridge structures, incorporating drainage improvements that will benefit residents and protect the sensitive environmental areas adjacent to the bridge, as well as building a new, wider bicycle and pedestrian path under the bridge,” Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said.
Aside from wider bridges, the Tollway project also includes fewer piers and expansion joints intended to better protect the forested fen and waterway below the bridge.
Given the size and location of the bridge, the Tollway worked with officials from Elgin, Kane County, the Forest Preserve District of Kane County, and a variety of state and federal environmental agencies on the $95 million project.
An innovative bridge design, Tollway officials have said, should require less maintenance work in future years and extend the bridge’s lifespan beyond the traditional length.
But the making of those traffic improvements likely will mean some traffic delays until the new Fox River Bridge opens in 2016. At least in the early part of construction, motorists should see minimal interruptions, Tollway officials said.
Crews will build new foundations and piers under the current bridge, allowing six lanes of traffic to flow normally. They also will use a special overhead gantry to carry materials and limit delays, once new bridge beams are ready for installation.
“Whenever possible, the Tollway uses traffic shifts and shoulders to keep as many lanes open during peak hours,” Lafleur said. “On the Fox River Bridge project, three lanes in each direction will be maintained during peak hours. However, some delays should be anticipated.”
The fewer piers into the water means better environmental protections for the Fox River habitat below the bridge, according to the Tollway.
Once the massive rebuild is complete, area drainage will be treated before it is released into the river. Crews also will eliminate a nearby storm sewer, preventing storm water from flowing near a forested fen.
An existing 660-foot-long bicycle and walkway bridge underneath the Fox River Bridge will also be widened for better access and to assist officials with future bridge inspections. The pedestrian bridge, though, will remain closed until construction is completed.
The $95 million needed to rebuild the aging bridge mostly involves a $75 million construction contract, which was awarded this spring. A large, single contract ensures shortened construction times and delays, Lafleur said.
“Complete reconstruction of two structures that make up the Fox River Bridge is a major undertaking, and our creative and innovative approach to construction offers the safest and most efficient way to move this project forward,” she said.