With wintery weather hanging on it might not seem possible, but message boards appeared in the vicinity of First Avenue and 31st Street last week announcing the start of a major road construction project intended to improve traffic flow into and around Brookfield Zoo’s North Gate.
While the weather could delay things a bit, the first phase of the $3.5 million project is set to kick off March 17, according to John Kramer, vice president of plant and facilities management for the Chicago Zoological Society, which operates the zoo.
“The weather’s going to be the big caveat,” said Kramer. “The ground is so frozen that we’ve had a hard time getting utility locates done.”
The work, which is expected to continue throughout the summer and end sometime on October, includes widening the street to add a left-turn lane on eastbound 31st Street at Golfview Avenue. The south side of 31st Street in front of the zoo will be changed to eliminate concrete barriers and replace them with a bus drop-off lane and more attractive landscape.
Construction also will include significant changes to the entry/exit area at the North Gate in order to prevent traffic backups on busy summer weekends and holidays. Ticket booths will be placed farther north in the parking lot to allow more cars to stack up off the roadway.
Finally, southbound First Avenue is slated to be realigned as it approaches Golfview Avenue to provide a dedicated straight exit toward the North Gate, eliminating the awkward sharp right turn motorists must make presently.
According to Kramer, the opening phase of construction shouldn’t result in a whole lot of disruption to traffic. Temporary signals will be installed at 31st Street and Golfview Avenue in preparation for the addition of the left-turn lane there.
Work will then shift to the First Avenue and Golfview Avenue areas. New lighting will be installed toward the end of the project.
Kramer said the North Gate will remain open during the entire construction season. While there likely will be lane reductions throughout the summer, roads are not slated for closure.
Crews will also avoid working on weekends and at times where traffic in and out of the zoo is expected to be heaviest, said Kramer. Still, there may be times when there will be fewer lanes available inside the parking lot for vehicles pulling into the zoo.
“Egress into the parking area may be a lot smaller as work goes on there,” said Kramer. “That’s where we’re going to feel the crunch a little bit. But there won’t be work on weekends when we’re parking a lot of cars. I expect there to be some disturbance, but it will be very coordinated.”