Why is Chicago building a new roadway between the Loop and Chinatown?

The Chicago Tribune presented this headline yesterday: “Mayor proposes new roadway between downtown, Chinatown.” When I first saw this, I thought this might be something along the lines of the Crosstown Expressway, a major new arterial roadway connecting two areas. However, the article seems to emphasize the importance of safety:

The $62 million project, called the Wells-Wentworth Connector, would also realign Wentworth Avenue between Archer and Cermak roads to bring this section of Wentworth in line with the portion of Wentworth south of Cermak, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.

The Wentworth-Cermak intersection, which jogs in an offset alignment, contributes to a high number of crashes, according to a city analysis…

In Chinatown, the southern end of the new arterial road would offer access to the Dan Ryan Expressway, according to the city’s Central Area Action Plan, a list of proposals and specific projects, along with their construction timetables and estimated costs…

The city has slowly been planning improvements for more than a decade to boost safety and reduce traffic congestion in the area, especially among vehicles exiting the Ryan ramps at Cermak. In April 2008, a semitrailer truck that had just exited the Ryan barreled through a crowded intersection and slammed into the Cermak-Chinatown station, killing two people and injuring 21.

Improving a dangerous intersection, particularly in a higher-pedestrian area, would be helpful. It sounds like Wells and Wentworth could be connected between Roosevelt and 18th Street, providing another north-south route. Yet, the city’s explanation of the rationales for this change hint at another important factor:

1. Improved safety for vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists. Within a wide study area, the offset intersection at Wentworth and Cermak had the highest number of crashes of any other intersection. In comparison, the number was almost double the number of crashes occuring at the intersection of the Dan Ryan off-ramps with Cermak. The realignment of Wentworth at Cermak is required to facilitate safer connections for all modes of traffic.

2. Construction of a new north-south collector street (Wells Wentworth) . This will allow for improved traffic flow throughout both TIF Redevelopment Areas by creating a coordinated series of intersections, as well as provide or improve pedestrian connectivity within the two project areas and to nearby destinations such as the new Ping Tom Park Fieldhouse, the proposed new Chinatown Library, the existing commercial areas, and transit stops.

3. Significant redevelopment opportunities. Improved connectivity between the Loop, the two TIF Redevelopment Areas, and the surrounding communities will promote the redevelopment of vacant land and expand economic development opportunites.

So the real reason may not be safety or providing another north-south thoroughfare to help relieve traffic. The primary reason, as it often is with urban changes, is development which means money and profits. Safety is good but safety plus new developments that bring in new money are even better. There is money to be made with a new street.

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