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The idea of building a Central Avenue bypass of the Belt Railway freight yard between 65th and 72nd Streets has been kicked around for well over 50 years. For decades, local pols have lobbied for this public works project that would connect Chicago's Clearing neighborhood with Bedford Park and Burbank.
Supporters of the plan contend the bypass would alleviate congestion along Cicero and Harlem Avenues, improve access to Midway Airport, and boost economic development on the Southwest Side.
In the 1980’s, a preliminary engineering study was undertaken by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) of a Central Avenue bypass, however IDOT was unable to proceed with the project at that time due to insufficient funds.
Another preliminary engineering and environmental study was commissioned by IDOT in 2001 with the aim of improving the north-south flow of vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians through Burbank, Bedford Park, Clearing and other surrounding areas. After a series of public meetings, and consideration of other alternatives (such as widening Harlem and Cicero Avenues), the project team concluded a “Central-Central connector” to be the most practical and cost effective plan.
The project was resurrected in 2009 by Congressman Daniel Lipinski (D-3rd) when he helped secure $170 million in federal and state funds to pay for pre-construction design, engineering, and right-of-way acquisition for the long-delayed project.
By 2011 IDOT had proposed a plan that involved building a Central Avenue underpass 20 feet beneath the rail yard. The plan also called for widening the street to two lanes in each direction between 63rd and 79th Streets (with medians and turn-lanes), new bike lanes and sidewalks, and a redesigned intersection (TBD) focused on pedestrian safety at 77th Street in the vicinity of Kennedy and St. Laurence schools.
IDOT estimated the cost of this plan between $300 million and $500 million. By 2012 the project stalled once again over lack of funding. The bypass remains as much of an elusive dream today, as it was for Southsiders a generation ago.
The video below is an excerpt from the Central Avenue Project Video IDOT first presented at a public meeting about the project in 2011 at St. Laurence High School. This 5 minute animation lets viewers virtually fly over a reimagined Central Avenue while illustrating the basic concepts of the connector plan.