Getting around Chicago can be a bit of a challenge during rush hour, and spring/summer seasons are usually a little more complicated because of road construction.
This year, though, construction on the Dan Ryan Expressway (I-90/94) has the potential to make your travel a lot more complicated - unless you plan ahead.
Probably the best solution of all is to keep driving to a minimum and take the free shuttle buses provided by NPE organizers, or public transportation. Or splurge and take a shuttle to the airport or a taxi from McCormick.
Here's a rundown on the best ways to get around town smoothly during show week.
Shuttle buses take visitors from most Chicago hotels right to McCormick Place, and they are free with your NPE 2006 badge.
If you've been to NPE before, you know how they work. Shuttles pick up and drop off riders from all three McCormick halls, North, South and East, and go to dozens of downtown hotels.
The buses don't pick up riders at all the hotels on the routes - check with your hotel doorman or front desk, and they can tell you which neighboring hotel has a boarding location. Also, shuttle bus information signs will be located in hotel lobbies.
Shuttles run each day from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m., typically every 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the route and time of day.
Taxis load from McCormick Place at the Grand Concourse (on the west end between the North and South buildings), or from Level 2 of the East building. They're a great way to go somewhere not on the shuttle route, like a special restaurant, sporting event or cultural activity. But they're not the only way.
Chicago's Regional Transportation Authority has a complex system of trains, buses and even free trolleys that can take show-goers from McCormick to just about anywhere in northeastern Illinois.
The Metra train is probably the fastest and most convenient for McCormick visitors. It stops right at Level 2.5 of the North building and whisks travelers to the Randolph Street Station (also called Millennium Station, it's on Michigan Avenue between South Water Street and Randolph Street) in about 9 minutes. The train also stops downtown at Van Buren Street, at Michigan Avenue.
The fare is $1.95 one way, or $16.60 for 10 tickets. For details, go to www.rtachicago.com.
Chicago Transit Authority buses also stop right at McCormick's front door, and basic fare is $1.75. One option would be to take a short bus ride to the Cermak/Chinatown L station, where you can take the Red Line elevated train downtown and connect to just about anywhere. For information, visit www.transitchicago.com.
The Illinois Department of Transportation started the Dan Ryan reconstruction project in 2003; work will continue into 2008.
Right now the express lanes are closed for reconstruction. That doesn't mean the highway is closed - it's still the main route for truck traffic into the city. But passenger cars have alternatives.
The three main alternate routes are Ashland Avenue, Lake Shore Drive and Stony Island Avenue. You can follow the ``alternate route'' signs, which will help you avoid the most congested parts of the Dan Ryan.
You can get up-to-date information on the project on the Web at www.avoidthedanryan.com, which also features more information on alternative routes.
Right now there is one closure that directly affects access to McCormick Place: The northbound ramp from Martin Luther King Drive at 24th Street onto I-55/Stevenson Expressway will be closed from May 24 to June 30, which includes NPE week. This closure will not affect the southbound ramp exit from I-55 onto Martin Luther King Drive.
With the ramp closure, McCormick Place recommends these alternative routes to get to from the hall's parking Lot A to these locations:
* I-55/Stevenson Expressway toward Midway Airport: Turn left at stoplight onto Cermak Road. Follow Cermak Road to I-94/Dan Ryan Expressway southbound. Take I-94/Dan Ryan Expressway to I-55/Stevenson Expressway South.
* I-90/Kennedy Expressway toward O'Hare Airport: Turn left at stoplight onto Cermak Road. Turn right at first stoplight/Indiana Avenue. Take Indiana Avenue to Roosevelt Road. Turn left at Roosevelt Road to I-94/Eisenhower Expressway North.
* I-94/Dan Ryan Expressway South toward Indiana: Turn right at stoplight onto Cermak Road, which leads into Martin Luther King Drive. Turn right at 31st Street to I-94/Dan Ryan Expressway South.
And if you want to take a plane, you can do that in a matter of minutes in Chicago - provided you can get through security or baggage claim without incident!
To take advantage of the low-cost CTA route to O'Hare Airport, take the Metra train to the Randolph station, walk three blocks west to the Dearborn subway station and take the Blue Line train to the airport.
The Metra portion of the trip takes about nine minutes, the subway 45 minutes, and your walk varies by how much time you've spent walking around at NPE.
Midway Airport is even closer. Take the Metra to Randolph, walk one block west to Wabash and take the Orange Line elevated train to Midway. The L portion of the trip takes about 35 minutes.
If you're willing to pay more for a lot more convenience, the airport shuttles are a great option.
Continental Air Transport also offers vans to both airports from McCormick. You can book your tickets in advance at www.airport express.com and pick up a discount coupon in the process.
Airport shuttles leave every 10-15 minutes. One-way fares are about $25; the round trip is about $46. You can find the shuttles near the airport baggage claim.