It's show time. With NPE 2000 hovering on our North American horizon, it's also time to make traveling plans — at the very least for that daily trek to and from the show. As captivating as Chicago may be, getting in and around the city isn't much fun. And knowing your potential traffic snarls is a necessary evil.
The biggest headache could result from Mission I-55, the Illinois Department of Transportation's project to revamp the old Stevenson Expressway. Two lanes are open in each direction for a 15-mile stretch from Canal to LaGrange.
According to IDOT's Web site, www.dot.state.il.us — and to John Burke, IDOT's bureau chief for information and public assistance — alternative routes include Archer Avenue, Ogden Avenue and Joliet Road.
The detours might not be purely stress-filled, because they cut through the southwest section of the city, offering a tour of some of Chicago's ethnic neighborhoods.
Nevertheless, IDOT expects that 150,000-175,000 vehicles will be affected by the construction.
This year marks the final year of the $567 million reconstruction project.
Ramp closures include: exit to Damen Avenue, entrance from Ashland and Damen Avenues, Chinatown and 22nd entrance ramp, exit ramp to and entrance from northbound LaGrange, outbound Dan Ryan Expressway or I-90/94 to outbound Stevenson and Damen Avenue north of Stevenson.
The departments are recommending that motorists take advantage of the Chicago Transit Authority buses or the Metra trains.
The Chicago Transit Authority's No. 3 and No. 4 buses will drop riders off at McCormick for $1.50. Metra has stations at Randolph and Van Buren Streets that service the McCormick stop on Level 2.5 of the Grand Concourse.
The Randolph station is located underground on Michigan Avenue between South Water and Randolph. Also underground, the Van Buren station is between Jackson Boulevard and Van Buren Street.
The cost of the seven-minute ride is $1.75, one way. But Metra offers a 15 percent discount for 10 rides at $14.90.
NPE 2000 is providing free shuttles for all visitors with show badges to and from their hotels and McCormick. The shuttles will run about every 15 minutes in the morning and evening, and every half-hour in the afternoon. While the shuttles will serve the downtown and O'Hare regions, they will take riders only to hotel destinations.
Show-goers can check with the hotel desk upon arrival to find out where the buses stop.
Once visitors finally arrive at McCormick Place, the next challenge — navigating the building — is diminished somewhat since the layout is similar to NPE 1997.
Managed by the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority and named for the former owner of the Chicago Tribune, Colonel Robert McCormick, the center is home to 4 million trade and public show visitors annually. This year's NPE crowd will swell to more than 2,000 exhibitors and 80,000 attendees, and about 1.1 million square feet of the center's 2.2 million square feet will be devoted to the show.
Like NPE 1997, registration areas will be set up in the Grand Concourse between the North and South McCormick buildings, as well as in the main entrance of the East Building or Lakeside Center. The main entrance of the South Building is reserved for advanced registration only.
The business center is on Level 2 of the North Building, and NPE 2000 restaurants are in the Vista room of the South Building, Level 3 of Lakeside and Level 3 of the North Building.
The final obstacle to the show is parking.
Among the four parking lots around the center, two are reserved for exhibitors with permits (permit information was included in reservation packets), according to Standard Parking, which runs the parking lots around McCormick Place.
Steve Kaplan, Standard Parking general manager, said the Martin Luther King lot next to the South Building has 600 spaces. The lot on 31st Street has 2,000 spaces and the Lakeside Center lot has an additional 2,000 spaces. The lot for the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place hotel, adjacent to the South Building, has 600 spaces, but that lot charges hourly, while the other lots charge a flat fee of $10 per entrance, Kaplan said.
None of the lots have in-and-out privileges. Other lots not operated by Standard are in the area north of McCormick, such as the Soldier Field lot, which has 2,500 spaces, and Burnham Harbor, Kaplan said.
For people determined to brave the streets of Chicago in their own cars, the Chicago Department of Transportation offers updates and tips at (312) 368-4636 and on the Web site www.ci.chi.il.us/transportation.