The City of Chicago will begin the springtime bridge lifts this Saturday morning, allowing recreational boat traffic to move from boat storage yards to harbors across Lake Michigan. The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) will begin lifting the movable bridges over the south and main branches of the Chicago River Chicago River so that sail boats and other pleasure craft can safely and easily move into summer docking locations up and down the shoreline.
Each year, in the spring and fall, CDOT raises the movable bridges along the Main and South Branches of the Chicago River on a twice weekly schedule on Saturdays and Wednesdays to accommodate recreational boats traveling to and from their storage yards.
“The springtime lifting of Chicago’s iconic movable river bridges marks the beginning of the boating season each year and is a welcome sight for Chicagoans,” said CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld, who also serves as Chicago’s Harbor Master and has jurisdiction over the city’s waterways. “CDOT works with local boat storage yards each year to create a schedule that accommodates boats while causing the least amount of impact on downtown street traffic.”
During these “boat runs,” the bridges are raised sequentially, typically one at a time. Each bridge lift takes an average of 8-12 minutes. A total of 27 bridges will be lifted in succession from the Ashland Avenue Bridge on the South Branch to Lake Shore Drive.
The bridge near Canal Street is properly called the Pennsylvania Railroad Bridge No. 458. Completed in 1914, it's presently owned and maintained by Amtrak. According to the company, all of its eastbound trains cross this bridge after leaving Union Station—that's ten trains a day to Michigan and another four to the east coast. Add to that a slew of Metra and freight trains that also use the tracks, as well as trains that use the bridge to turn around in a nearby rail yard, and you have an astonishing 110 or so trains using this vertical lift bridge every day. And because river-barge traffic has the right of way (literally because whatever was there first has the right of way and the river was there first), the bridge must also lift to let water vessels past. Amtrak estimates that the bridge is lifted, on average, once every 48 minutes.