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Signs for Pace's Bus-on-Shoulder project have been set up on I-55. It begins Nov. 14.

Motorists express fears about routing buses on I-55 shoulders

by Yu Le
Nov 01, 2011

Bus commuters may appreciate sailing by cars jammed in rush-hour congestion on the Stevenson Expressway, but some motorists say it will be dangerous when buses begin driving on the shoulders later this month.

Pace, the suburban bus operator, will run its buses on the shoulders of I-55 beginning Nov. 14 in a two-year experiment.

Although similar operations have been introduced in Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Miami and some other cities, the concept is new to Chicago residents, some of whom raised safety concerns.

“It sounds really dangerous for me,” Abby Strozinsky said while vacuuming her car at a carwash near I-55’s Kedzie Avenue exit. “The congestion is already just bad enough, … I mean, the shoulders aren’t that wide, so having buses come down the shoulder .. it just seems like it’sgoing to cause problems.”

Patrick Wilmot, Pace’s manager of media relations, said the shoulders in designated sections are wide enough to accommodate the buses.

“It’s a good thing for efficiency and it gets more ridership,” another driver, Matt Boie said. “But it makes me nervous as a driver.”

Pace’s route 755 and 855, both of which run only in rush hours, will operate on the left shoulders in three sections of I-55: Kedzie Avenue to Cicero Avenue; Cicero Avenue to Interstate 294 interchange and County Line Road to Interstate 355 interchange. The three sections cover 15 miles.

Multiple measures will be applied to ensure safety when the bus-on-shoulders project starts, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation and Pace.

“Only Pace buses can use the shoulder,” Wilmot said. “The Illinois State Police will vigilantly enforce this and ticket any other vehicle that illegally attempts to use the shoulder.”

“Buses can only use the shoulder when traffic is flowing in the regular lanes at less than 35 m.p.h.,” Wilmot said in an email. “When using the shoulder, the highest speed buses can travel is 35 m.p.h., or 15 m.p.h. faster than the flow of traffic in the regular lanes.”

However, car drivers still have concerns.

“I’m not uncomfortable with emergency vehicles doing it,” Strozinsky said. “But I don’t think I’m very comfortable with large buses doing it either.”

Cars and trucks can still use the shoulder for emergencies, according to the transportation department.

“If a disabled vehicle or other obstruction is in the shoulder, the bus will very simply slow down, merge back into the regular traffic lanes, then move back onto the shoulder once it has cleared the obstruction,” Wilmot said.

Route 755 and 855 provide service between Chicago’s downtown and southwest suburbs include Burr Ridge, Bolingbrook, Romeoville and Plainfield. The two routes operate only eight buses each in morning and evening rush hours.

Pace and state agencies will assess the project at the end of the two-year experiment and decide wither to make it permanent or discontinue it.