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SOM Completes Restoration of Historic Chicago Skyway Plaza Canopy

On October 25th, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM) and the Skyway Concession Company, operators of the Chicago Skyway Toll Bridge, announced the completion of the restoration of the historic Chicago Skyway toll plaza canopy located on the city’s southern edge. Designed by SOM, the restoration preserves the canopy’s original 1958 design while modernizing the facility with new streamlined sustainability and technology features.

"The Skyway has served as a physical and symbolic gateway between Chicago and the east coast for generations. In considering our plans for toll plaza modernization, it was of vital importance for us to pay homage to Chicago and the history of the great bridge," said Skyway Concession Company CEO Fernando Redondo. "That we could remove the last sixty years of incremental modifications to reflect the historic look and feel of the canopy, while still fully modernizing its tolling technology, is a testament to the progressive and versatile nature of the original toll plaza design."

The 7.8-mile-long Chicago Skyway Toll Bridge was built in 1958 to connect the Indiana Toll Road to the Dan Ryan Expressway in Illinois. Its elegant toll plaza serves as an iconic gateway between the two states, defined by a steel canopy, neon signage, and stainless steel toll booths. As communications and transportation technology evolved through the following decades, the toll plaza was continuously retrofitted with new devices and fittings, impeding service speed and traffic flow, and obscuring the original design of the structure.

The Chicago Skyway canopy restoration project, led by SOM, carefully returns the structure to its original form while modernizing its tolling technology. Old cameras, antennae, and other attachments are replaced by new, streamlined technology for more convenient and efficient toll services. LED lighting and digital signage, attached by custom steel brackets, are housed in a truss that spans 34 feet between the existing canopy columns. The signage and overall communication system, designed by SOM, relies on color and universal text to clearly communicate payment method and lane use, while conforming with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Device (MUTCD) standards. The roof of the canopy is designed to incorporate photovoltaic panels to provide 100 percent of the energy required to run the toll plaza.

“The Skyway is a Chicago landmark and a place in the memory of all Chicagoans. It serves as a gateway to the city—its iconic neon sign marks your arrival. In restoring the Skyway plaza, we sought to restore its historic elements, while modernizing it to today’s sustainability standards, incorporating LED and photovoltaic technology, simplifying its appearance and enhancing the arrival experience.” said Scott Duncan, SOM Design Partner.

Originally built by the City of Chicago to better connect the region, the Chicago Skyway is a critical transit asset for the entire metropolitan area. By preserving the original canopy design, removing obsolete additions, and incorporating new technologies, the Chicago Skyway canopy restoration allows for safer and more efficient tolling and regional transportation.

About Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM) is one of the leading architecture, interior design, engineering, and urban planning firms in the world. Since its founding more than 80 years ago, SOM has earned a reputation for design excellence with a portfolio that includes some of the most important architectural accomplishments of the 20th and 21st centuries, and has been a leader in the research and development of specialized technologies, new processes and innovative ideas, many of which have had a palpable and lasting impact on the design profession and the physical environment. The firm’s longstanding leadership in design and building technology has been honored with nearly 2,000 awards for quality, innovation, and management. The American Institute of Architects has recognized SOM twice with its highest honor, the Architecture Firm Award—in 1962 and again in 1996. The firm maintains offices in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., London, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Dubai, and Mumbai.

About the Chicago Skyway

Built by the City of Chicago in 1958, the Chicago Skyway Toll Bridge is a 7.8-mile-long toll road that connects the Indiana Toll Road to the Dan Ryan Expressway on Chicago’s South Side. The main feature of the Skyway is a 1⁄2-mile-long steel truss bridge, known as the “High Bridge.” The bridge itself spans the Calumet River and Calumet Harbor, a majorharbor for industrial ships – its main span extends 650 feet long and provides for 125 feet of vertical clearance.

The City of Chicago maintained and operated the Chicago Skyway until January 2005 when Skyway Concession Company assumed those responsibilities pursuant to a 99-year lease. The lease agreement between Skyway and the City of Chicago was the first privatization of an existing toll road in the United States.