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New $70 Million Albany Park Tunnel Has Stopped Flood Waters Since May, City Says

The two-year project built a tunnel 150 feet beneath Foster Avenue to divert floodwaters that ravaged the neighborhood in 2008 and 2013.

Inside the Albany Park Tunnel, which is 150 feet beneath Foster Avenue.
City of Chicago
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ALBANY PARK — Since its completion earlier this year, the new $70 million Albany Park Tunnel has already prevented neighborhood from being hit with flooding, city officials said Tuesday at a ceremony at the tunnel.

“The tunnel has been activated four times, and we’re four for four with no flooding,” said Tom Carney, first deputy commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation.

Completed earlier this spring, Carney said the tunnel was first activated on May 3 and diverted a flow of over 1,000 cubic feet of water per second from Albany Park.

“These are the types of projects we love because they make a difference in the lives of our residents,” he said, comparing the Tuesday morning ribbon cutting to his department’s version of the Super Bowl or Stanley Cup.

Federal, state and local funds paid for the project, which was put in motion after catastrophic floods hit Albany Park in 2013, the second time in five years that the neighborhood’s streets were flooded.

“It used to be said that this area was hit with a major flood every hundred years,” said Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th). “But the math went wrong and we were hit with another flood. “

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the river crested a record 8.57 feet on April 18, 2013. Once the water receded the flooding left behind a layer of grimy residue that coated sidewalks and lawns.  

At Tuesday’s ribbon cutting, Mayor Rahm Emanuel recalled his experience during the 2008 flood.

“When we were touring the streets Ald. Margaret Laurino and I didn’t know if we were going to need a forklift of a boat,” he said.

Credit: Alex V. Hernadez/Block Club Chicago
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, center, and Ald. Margaret Laurino (left of Emanuel) help cut the ribbon on the new Albany Park Tunnel. [City of Chicago]

He added that the flooding didn’t just make traveling the streets impossible, but also destroyed or damaged residents’ groceries, clothes, photos and other property.

“A flood would disrupt the families in the Albany Park neighborhood for weeks, and they never got their photos back,” said Emanuel.

The 5,833-foot tunnel sits about 150 feet below Foster Avenue. It is designed to divert 2,300 cubic feet of water per second. Flood water is collected at an inlet near Springfield Avenue along the south bank of the Chicago River.

Because the tunnel has an 18-foot diameter, it essentially functions as a second underground river and diverts floodwaters into an outlet shaft in River Park.

Credit: City of Chicago
The stormwater diversion tunnel runs 150 feet below Foster Avenue. [City of Chicago]

Construction on the Albany Park Tunnel began during the spring of 2016.

A tunnel boring machine was used for part of the tunnel excavation. The city also used “controlled blasting” to help create the intake and outflow shafts for the project.

While the tunnel is complete, ongoing aspects of the project include improvements to Eugene Field Park at the western end of the tunnel. The park’s landscaping will include new trees, a new walkway, benches and a water fountain.

Meanwhile improvements to River Park at the eastern end of the project will include a new soccer field, a new regulation-sized baseball field and diamond with a backstop and batting cage, in addition to landscaping.

During the ribbon cutting, Emanuel also said he would continue to reach out to Federal Emergency Management Agency  to try and remove the neighborhood’s “flood marking” in a bid to lower home insurance rates for residents.