If everything goes as planned, in about 10 months from now, Ridge Avenue will offer a smooth ride on four new lanes, steadily moving traffic monitored by in-road sensors and venerable post-top traffic lights, new curbs and a slight pitch to the surface to prevent storm water from collecting in the street.

Scheduled to begin March 17, construction will take place through late November, though, only one lane will be open on Ridge Avenue, requiring many of the nearly 20,000 vehicles per day that traverse the Evanston section of Ridge Avenue to use Asbury, Custer or Chicago avenues or McCormick Boulevard.

The plan is to close all but one lane of traffic on Ridge Avenue throughout the project. For the first two of the three stages, a northbound lane will be open; during the final stage there will be a lane for southbound traffic only. City transportation officials expect Asbury Avenue to absorb most of the detoured traffic.

“Traffic on Asbury is between 14,000-16,000 vehicles per day – fewer in the north and more in the south. … The City repaired Asbury Avenue in 2007 in preparation for this extra traffic,” Sat Nagar of the City’s transportation division told the RoundTable.

Rajeev Dahal, also in the City’s transportation division, said setting up the detours was one of the biggest challenges. He also said the City had considered whether to reconfigure Ridge Avenue into three lanes of traffic but decided to restore the four lanes.

Officials from the City and from Civiltech Engineering of Itasca, the company that will oversee the project, say they understand dust and disruption will be part of the process but have plans to address them.

The City held two open houses in late February to acquaint the public with the project, the detours and the expected interruptions to normal life along Ridge Avenue.

The project will be completed in three stages. Stage 1 involves installing nearly a mile of sewer pipes, said Steve Berecz of Gewalt Hamilton, the company that has already performed much sewer work in the City.

Ridge Avenue has a concrete bed overlaid with asphalt, said Project Engineer Reid Magner and Assistant Field Engineer Andy Garb. The street has been resurfaced several times, said Mr. Garb, building the street up to within inches of the curb top. “The road is also pitched wrong; there is [virtually] no slope,” which allows storm water to collect on the road and in the gutters. “We’ll correct the slope and add new and higher curbs so the water will drain [properly],” he added.

John Burke, the City’s director of transportation, said “We’ll grind off the asphalt and walk along the concrete to see where it needs to be repaired and make sure there is a strong bed.”

Between the concrete bed at the asphalt surface the crews will lay an inch-thick polymerized leveling binder, said Mr. Manger. He said the polymer would minimize “reflective fractures” – tiny fissures in the substrate that, over winters of freezing and thawing, become potholes.

Mr. Burke said this binder “is recommended for use by the Illinois Department of Transportation District 1 for this application. … It provides elasticity in the pavement for the primary purpose of resisting rutting and the entrance of surface water into the underlying base … and slows down the reflective cracking of the pavement.”

Mr. Burke also said, “The [new] asphalt surface may last 15-20 years. … From a maintenance standpoint, [the strong concrete bed] makes for a quicker and less invasive repair project.” More optimistic than Mr. Burke, Mr. Manger said the new surface should “last 25 years.”

This same polymerized leveling binder was used on the McCormick Boulevard project, Mr. Burke said. Now in its third year, that pavement is “starting to get some fine transverse cracking in the surface reflecting up from the joints in the concrete base below. These fine reflective cracks … do not adversely affect the pavement’s ride performance or structural integrity.” City crews monitor and seal them when they reach about 1/4″ to protect the street, he said.

Robert Andres, principal of Civiltech Engineering, said his company has performed work for IDOT, the fed folks and many municipalities. Designing this project, he said, was the major challenge.

A state highway for decades, Ridge Avenue will soon become an Evanston street. A few years ago when the State of Illinois said it planned to repair Ridge Avenue, widen its nine-foot lanes and replace the small post-top stoplights with double mast-arm lights, many Evanstonians rebelled. Because much of the street targeted for repairs lies within the Ridge Historic District, and because the widening of the street was likely to kill or severely damage many of the parkway trees there, the City arranged to take over jurisdiction of the road, keep it at its current width and keep the post-top traffic lights. The City secured federal rather than state money for the repairs, but the City of Evanston will responsible for upkeep and further repairs.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...