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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

South Midway Plaisance In Jackson Park To Close, Cornell Drive To Be Narrowed This Summer As Part Of Obama Center Road Work

The traffic changes, set to begin Aug. 13, will be temporary as the city plans to close Cornell Drive through the park by mid-2023.

Jackson Park, the proposed home of the Obama Presidential Center.
AJ LaTrace/Block Club Chicago
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WOODLAWN — Temporary traffic changes are coming to the area surrounding the planned Obama Presidential Center site this summer, as the city prepares a drastic overhaul of the area’s road layout ahead of the center’s construction.

Crews plan to narrow Cornell Drive through Jackson Park from six lanes to four and close the block of South Midway Plaisance in the park, an Obama Foundation official said at Tuesday’s 5th Ward meeting.

The temporary changes are planned to go in effect Aug. 13, said Roark Frankel, the foundation’s director of planning and construction. North Midway Plaisance would be converted to two-way traffic upon the south portion’s closure.

The narrowing of Cornell Drive comes as the Obama Foundation aims to keep construction trucks off Stony Island Avenue, Frankel said.

“We’re going to dedicate the two westernmost lanes [of Cornell Drive] to be construction access only” during the traffic changes, Frankel said.

Credit: Obama Foundation
Left: The current traffic pattern for drivers heading east on South Midway Plaisance toward Cornell Drive. Right: The traffic pattern for eastbound drivers once road work is set to begin this summer.

The traffic changes are the first step in a redesign of roads in and around Jackson Park for the Obama Center. Planned permanent road changes include:

  • Closing the following roads and converting them to park land:
    • Cornell Drive between the Midway Plaisance and Hayes Drive.
    • The northbound section of Cornell Drive between 65th and 68th streets.
    • Marquette Drive between Stony Island Avenue and Richards Drive.
    • The eastbound portion of Midway Plaisance between Stony Island Avenue and Cornell Drive.
  • Adding a third southbound lane on Lake Shore Drive from 57th Street to Hayes Drive, and a travel lane in each direction on Stony Island Avenue from 59th Street to 65th Street.
  • Making changes to other roadways, bike paths and walkways in and around Jackson Park.

The Chicago Department of Transportation is set to spend $174 million in state funds on the road projects.

The foundation intends to break ground on the center’s construction in mid-August, Frankel said. The project faces another legal challenge from Protect Our Parks, the nonprofit which has fought for years to block the center’s construction in Jackson Park in favor of an alternative South Side site.

Protect Our Parks filed a motion last week to halt the Obama Center’s construction and the related road work until the case can be heard.

The “expansions and incursions into the east and west sides of Jackson Park” from the widening of Stony Island and Lake Shore Drive will impact “parkland and trees that are part of the historic and environmental fabric” of the park, attorney Michael Rachlis said at a press conference last Wednesday.

The city, Park District and Obama Foundation — all defendants in the lawsuit — have filed a motion to dismiss the case, as reported by the Hyde Park Herald.

“We feel pretty confident that since the federal courts have already found in favor of the city previously, that that will be upheld,” Frankel said Tuesday. “That’s why we’re talking so confidently and positively in making plans for starting construction later this summer.”

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