A new bridge in Wheaton highlights problems with the railroad tracks, north-south routes

The Wesley Street bridge in Wheaton recently reopened after being completely rebuilt. Here is how it was changed:

The project involved several components including demolishing the existing bridge and reconstructing the approach roads, according to a press release..

A stoplight has been added where Manchester Road, Bridge Street and Wesley Street intersect, and a change in traffic pattern will allow drivers to turn left onto Bridge Street. This turn was previously prohibited due to the structural deficiencies with the old bridge, the release said.

The new structure also does not have weight restrictions, opening it up to emergency vehicles, school buses and trucks.

This is the only news story online I could find that actually had a picture of the bridge (though it is not a great angle to show off the new road bridge). Particularly compared to the old bridge, the new one has some nice styling and is a nice addition to the landscape.

But the reopening of the bridge also highlights two long-running issues in Wheaton:

1. This is the only bridge/underpass near the downtown and when the bridge is out, drivers would have had to go west to County Farm Road and or to the east side of Glen Ellyn to avoid an at-grade crossing. For decades, the City of Wheaton has looked at possible plans to avoid the railroad tracks downtown. Unfortunately, any major construction would have altered the existing buildings near Main and Front Street, the heart of the historic downtown. (Wheaton has approved plans for a pedestrian underpass at Chase Street but this requires losing an at-grade crossing plus it is east of the downtown.)

2. One possible bridge/underpass solution touched on another issue: the lack of north-south routes through Wheaton. This is partly a legacy of the hub and spoke model of the Chicago area where railroad lines (and Wheaton was built on the first one) radiate out from the center of Chicago but the connections between these lines are rare. Several decades ago, the city considered linking up Naperville Road, which dead ends just south of the railroad tracks to Main Street so that there would be a single major road through downtown Wheaton. Again, this would have required a lot of work so plans never moved forward. Another option was to push Gary Road further south but this also would have required a lot of work. While this bridge is helpful in navigating around the railroad tracks, it still requires driving around the downtown and isn’t part of a north-south path through the city.

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