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Quarry Workers Strike Stalls Milwaukee Avenue Resurfacing Work — And Other Street, Sidewalk Plans Across The City

The weeks-long strike has limited the supply of asphalt, concrete and other building materials during the peak of summer construction season, delaying work on Milwaukee Avenue from Chicago to Damen avenues.

Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park is in need of resurfacing work, as seen on July 10, 2022.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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WICKER PARK — A street resurfacing project officials hope to complete in Wicker Park this summer has been delayed because of a quarry workers strike — a job action that’s impacting projects around the city.

The Chicago Department of Transportation planned to begin repaving Milwaukee Avenue from Chicago to Damen avenues last week as part of the city’s Arterial Street Resurfacing Project, according to Romil Patel, the engineer and consultant overseeing the project.

The project is part of a larger series of street upgrades to that stretch of Milwaukee, including adding ADA ramps at crosswalks, upgrading gutters, and sidewalk improvements, which have already been completed.

For the project’s final leg, officials hoped to begin milling and repaving the stretch from Chicago to Ashland Avenue last week, and then complete the remaining section to Damen after the Wicker Park Fest street festival later this month.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park is in need of resurfacing work, as seen on July 10, 2022.

But due to an ongoing quarry workers strike that’s limited the supply of asphalt, concrete and other building materials, officials aren’t sure when the resurfacing could begin. Around 300 members of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 walked off the job June 7, alleging unfair labor practices against Lehigh Hanson, Vulcan Materials and Lafarge Holcim.

The three companies operate more than 30 quarries in northern Illinois.

“It was on schedule, but it has gotten delayed since the Local 150 strike,” Patel said. “The rule is, we cannot keep the street milled for a long time, more than a week. If we mill, they have to put the first layer of asphalt and the material is not available. So everything is on hold until the strike is over.”

The strike is threatening not just the Milwaukee Avenue repaving but resurfacing projects across Chicago, local officials said. In a letter dated July 1 to the manager of Vulcan Materials, transportation commissioner Gia Biagi warned the strike could have lasting repercussions to infrastructure projects in Chicago.

“We’ve been in close communication with our contractors to keep projects moving, but every day the strike continues is more detrimental to Chicago’s infrastructure needs and the City’s wellbeing,” Biagi’s letter reads. “A prolonged work stoppage means that many transportation projects across Chicago — such as our street resurfacing work, Green Alleys program, and ADA accessible ramp work — have slowed.”

Illinois Department of Transportation spokesperson Maria Castenada said the strike has also slowed down projects outside Chicago.

Contract negotiations are ongoing and expected to continue Monday, according to union’s website.

Once the strike ends, contractors could begin repaving Milwaukee almost immediately, Patel said. The full resurfacing will then take about two months to complete, depending on weather.

“What we have left is, we have to mill the street, we have to put down the first layer of asphalt and then we have to adjust all those manholes to the grade, and then put the final surface and put down the striping. Milwaukee is like one-and-a-half mile long, and there’s a bike route, as well. So that creates a little more challenge for us to manage everything,” he said.

Even if construction does begin soon, contractors will wait to complete the northern section of the project until after Wicker Park Fest ends. The annual street festival runs July 22-24 this year on Milwaukee from Paulina Street to Damen Avenue.

“With Wicker Park Fest, we decided that we are going split the project into two halves. The idea was to start milling from Chicago Avenue to Division Street and pave the first layer of asphalt on that corridor … and then once the Wicker Park Fest is done, then we’re going to come mill and pave from Division going north all the way to Damen Avenue,” Patel said.

Patel said officials are discussing creating a temporary bike lane detour that would avoid the construction, but that the plan has not yet been finalized.

Credit: Provided/Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce
Wicker Park Fest returns July 22-24 on Milwaukee Avenue

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