The Jane Byrne Interchange (formerly known as Circle Interchange), which was built in the 1950s and 1960s, is located near the eastern end of Chicago’s central business district. The interchange’s curvilinear ramps look like concentric rings from bird’s-eye view, which is why it is named the Circle.

The Jane Byrne Interchange serves as a hub for freight traffic and forms a crucial part of the region’s transportation system. It connects to the Dan Ryan Expressway (I-90/94) to the south, the Kennedy Expressway to the north (I-90/94), the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) to the west, and Congress Parkway to the east.

Traffic on the interchange has grown substantially over the years with more than 300,000 vehicles using it each day. The interchange includes single-lane ramps and sharp curves, making it very slow and congested. It is estimated that an average of more than 1,100 crashes occurs on the interchange a year.

In 2010, the interchange was identified as the top bottleneck in the US. Congestions caused on Jane Byrne Interchange amount to ten minutes a vehicle per day, totalling more than 25 million hours annually.

The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) planned a major overhaul of the interchange to ease congestion and improve capacity. The $475m Jane Byrne Interchange Project is the first to have been undertaken since the interchange was built. It identified problems plaguing the interchange and provided alternatives. Construction on the overhaul began in October 2014 and is scheduled for completion by 2018.

Details of the Jane Byrne Interchange overhaul project

The Jane Byrne Interchange Project is being undertaken as part of the IDOT’s 2013-2018 Multi-Year Highway Improvement Program. IDOT and the US Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) are jointly undertaking the project.

The first stage of the project (planning stage) studied the purpose and necessary improvements on the interchange. Alternatives were identified based on these studies. A preferred alternative was chosen based on transportation performance, financial feasibility and environmental performance.

The second stage (design stage) of the project developed a design based on the studies conducted in the first stage.

The planning and design stages were started in May 2012. These stages took two years to complete. Design approval for the project was granted in 2013.

Jane Byrne Interchange Project design

A complete structural redesign and reconfiguring of the interchange are being planned. The redesign aims to increase vehicle capacity, correct sharp curves and weaving distances.

The existing sites, which place constraints on the interchange, include CTA Blue Line’s Halsted Street station and tunnel, the Cermak water pumping station and the Haberdasher Square Lofts. Overcapacity at some of the ramps and narrow bridge shoulders create operational and safety issues. The redesign aims to address these issues.

Five preliminary concepts have been identified, including widening of ramps, adding lanes, construction of a tunnel and building ramps to soar above the existing concrete ribbons. The addition of ramps and lanes is expected to reduce traffic congestion by nearly 30%.

The additional capacity will be added to the Congress Parkway, Kennedy Expressway and the Dan Ryan Expressway. A two-lane flyover from Congress Parkway to Dan Ryan Expressway and Dan Ryan Expressway to Eisenhower Expressway are also being considered.

Jane Byrne Interchange finance

The first two stages of the project were funded under the IDOT’s 2014-2019 Multi-Year Highway improvement programme. Funds from the federal government are expected to finance 90% of the project with the remaining 10% of funds coming from the state government.

Construction of Jane Byrne Interchange

All modifications and new constructions for the project are being carried out within the existing right of way. No new properties are acquired although the project might encroach upon nearby areas, for which the state is holding discussions.

The first phase involved the reconstruction of the Morgan Street Bridge by October 2014. The second phase of the construction involved the removal and replacement of a bridge structure at Peoria Street.

The third stage of construction covering the I-90/94 section is being subdivided into two packages. The first contract involves the renovation of the existing bridge on Harrison Street ‘West’ Bridge over the Southbound Dan Ryan Expressway (I-90/94).

The second package involves the removal and replacement of the existing Halsted Street Bridge over the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290).

Jane Byrne Interchange contractors

A joint venture of AECOM and TranSystems was awarded a $40m contract in April 2012 to carry out engineering studies for the project. The contract includes identification of the scope of the improvements, the cost, and the construction schedule.

James McHugh Construction was contracted to build Ramp NW Flyover as a part of the interchange project.

F.H. Paschen/S.N. Nielsen was responsible for the construction of the Morgan Street Bridge.

Kiewit Infrastructure received a contract to remove and replace I-290/Congress Parkway that includes Peoria Street on the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290).