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Major Construction Project Begins On Michigan Avenue

Signs warn drivers of the pending start of construction along a stretch of Michigan Avenue from Oak Street to Illinois Street, beginning Sept. 28, 2011. (Credit: CBS)

Signs warn drivers of the pending start of construction along a stretch of Michigan Avenue from Oak Street to Illinois Street, beginning Sept. 28, 2011. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 09/28/11 11:17 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – If you drive, take a bus or even just walk down the Magnificent Mile, you’ll notice a big difference through mid-November.

The Chicago Department of Transportation has begun a road construction project to make driving and walking in the area easier. The work will affect Michigan Avenue from Illinois Street to Oak Street. It will continue along Inner Lake Shore Drive from Oak Street to Division Street.

As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, even in the rain, construction crews came out Wednesday morning to start the resurfacing project.

The first section to receive a new coat of asphalt will be from Ontario Street to Oak Street – a busy section of the Mag Mile that includes the John Hancock Center, the Water Tower Place, and the Apple Store, among other high-profile attractions.

The flashing LED signs have been up all week, making it clear that drivers can expect delays.

But the city is doing what it can to minimize the impact.

Crews will work “only during the off-peak daytime hours, so the AM and PM rush will be completely open to traffic,” said Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Brian Steele.

But the rest of the time, workers will have one or two lanes of traffic shut down in some spots. They will be removing and replacing asphalt, working on manholes, sidewalks and curbs and placing new pavement markings.

“The marked crosswalks, the stop bars, the lane lines – all of those will be completed and be much clearer, for not only motorists, but pedestrians,” Steele said.

Given that the holiday shopping season will flood Michigan Avenue before we know it, Steele says CDOT has a strong interest in getting the work done as quickly as possible.

“We’ve worked very closely with the businesses and the organizations in the area to compress the schedule as much as possible,” Steele said. “It was actually timed at this time of year, because this is much better than doing it at the peak of the summer season, and also, we want to finish the work prior to the big holiday shopping season.”

People who live and work in the area said they know there will be frustration with traffic tie-ups, but they said it will all be worth it when workers smooth out the rough spots along Michigan Avenue and the Inner Drive.

“I think that’s great, so people don’t fall or trip, or fall on concrete,” said Cheryl Joseph, who was walking down Michigan Avenue Wednesday. “I think it’s a pretty good idea.”

Even for one taxi driver, whose patience often runs thin, the extra delays may be worth it.

“The entire city is under construction, so traffic is bad anyway, but I think they need to fix the roads,” the cab driver said.

But earlier, some pedestrians said the project is just a bump in the road during their commute.

“I’m not on Michigan Avenue too much, but certain areas that they’ve been doing, it’s kind of annoyed me, because they’ve been doing them all at the same time and they’re not giving people a good path,” said one Michigan Avenue visitor.

The project will also smooth potholes along Michigan Avenue. Drivers who have to roll over the clumpy chunks of pavement now said they’ll welcome the new layer of asphalt.

“If they can make it better, they should,” said one Michigan Avenue commuter. “It’s been years that these roads have been a mess.”

Street parking is never permitted right on the Magnificent Mile. Still, there will be parking restrictions elsewhere all over the area, so watch out for the signs so that you don’t get ticketed.

For the duration of the project, motorists are encouraged to use alternate north-south streets such as Rush and State streets just to the west.

The $1.1 million project is being funded by the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois.