CHICAGO (CBS) — The long-stalled Navy Pier Flyover, often maligned for having taken longer to build than the Golden Gate Bridge, finally has been completed – three years later than originally expected.
The project is designed to relieve congestion on a narrow stretch of sidewalk where cyclists and pedestrians were forced to cross the Chicago River on a narrow sidewalk alongside busy Lake Shore Drive.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Showers Wednesday Afternoon, Night
Olivia Lawton and her dog Luna used to turn around rather than try to make the crossing.
“I’d probably get honked at,” Lawton said.
Now, those cyclists and pedestrians will now have a dedicated section of Lakefront Trail along the east side of the Lake Shore Drive bridge. The flyover links the two halves of the Lakefront trail for an uninterrupted 18-mile pedestrian and bike-friendly stretch between 71st Street and Hollywood Avenue.
“This is a wonderful solution a long time in the making,” downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said as city officials cut the ribbon on the completed project on Monday.
The Navy Pier Flyover is happening today! pic.twitter.com/Hwk42rbwy7
— CDOT (@ChicagoDOT) May 10, 2021
Construction started in 2014, and almost immediately was plagued by delays. Initially slated to be completed in 2018, the $64 million construction project missed multiple construction deadlines before it was finally completed three years behind schedule.
As CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey reported Monday, many are asking why it took so long. The flyover is only about half a mile long and took seven years to build – while the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco took just four in back in the 1930s.
The first two phases of the project, spanning Illinois Street and Grand Avenue, were completed in 2018 and 2019. But when repairs to the Lake Shore Drive Bridge over the Chicago River stretched on, so did the project.
The final piece of the flyover across the river repeatedly missed completion deadlines.
The final phase involved crews tunneling through bridge houses on the east side of the Lake Shore Drive Bridge to create wider paths for cyclists and pedestrians.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot called the project “critically important, as it extends for almost half a mile from Jane Addams Park and Ohio Street Beach to DuSable Harbor on the south side of the Chicago River.”
“The flyover will provide ample apace for walkers, runners, and bikers to safely coexist along the lakefront,” she said.
Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi jokingly said “I think I was like nine years old” when the project began in 2014.READ MORE: Thieves Steal Your Identity To Get Rental Cars, And You Get Stuck With The Bills
“Now it’s done, right? It’s taken a while, but we did it,” she said. “We never gave up, we kept pushing forward, and here we are. It’s finally done.”
“This is a project that’s long overdue,” Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Omer Osman added.
That is an understatement. We’ve been following the project since 2014.
In 2014, then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel touted the flyover as an opportunity to “see something and enjoy something in a way that doesn’t have a mile gap.”
Even that long ago, the project had already been in the planning stages for a decade.
“This will, for all of us, stand the test of time,” Mayor Emanuel told CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole in 2014.
On Monday, Biagi blamed funding challenges over the years. Other delays have been attributed to those repairs on the 83-year-old Lake Shore Drive bridge.
Bikers, joggers, and walkers like Lawton and Luna happily made their way across the flyover Monday – seeming to easily forgive and forget that the project was remarkably behind schedule.
“Definitely a lot safer,” Lawton said. “It’s also less busy this direction, so with her and the bikers, it’s nice to get her away from all that.”
Biagi said final phase of the project involved tunneling through two bridge houses on the east side of the Lake Shore Drive Bridge to allow for a wider Lakefront Trail. It also required retrofitting the existing bridge with a cantilever structure on the east side of the span.
Before the Navy Pier Flyover was completed, the Lakefront Trail narrowed to as little as 8 feet wide at points over the Chicago River. The new wider trail ranges from 19.5 feet to 21.5 feet wide.
Lightfoot said it was “critically important” to get the project completed to eliminate the need for cyclists, runners, and walkers to compete for space on a narrow sidewalk next to traffic on Lake Shore Drive, giving them a wider dedicated path to safely cross the Chicago River on the Lakefront Trail.
Who paid for the $64 million project? The city says it came from federal and state funds.MORE NEWS: Chicago Weather: Another Mild Day
The city says structural and mechanical work on the Lake Shore Drive Bridge will be continuing through this year.