A More Resilient Chicago - 2019 CAE Q1

-Bridget Hardy, AEG Fellow

Chicago endured a multi-day Polar Vortex during the 2019 winter that closed business and schools, modified public transportation schedules, and set the train tracks ablaze. Though the city was built to sustain long, cold winters, it was not designed for increasingly frequent Arctic winters. This was evidenced by the Lake Shore Drive bridge crack on February 11ththat shutdown the major roadway, which supports 60,000 vehicles a day, for 26 hours. The enormous crack on the 33-year old bridge’s beam was caused by corrosion which was exacerbated by extremely cold temperature and the huge temperature swing from -21 degrees Fahrenheit to 51 degrees Fahrenheit. The crack occurred on an expansion joint meant to withstand large temperature swings, but not extreme temperature swings. It raises the question, is this city built to last? What other infrastructure is corroded and deteriorating and how do we procure the funds to inspect, repair, and replace critical infrastructure?

Coincidentally, a week later on February 19th, 2019, the City of Chicago and 100 Resilient Cities released the first-of-its-kind Resilient Chicago Strategy. This plan aims to help shape the development of strong neighborhoods, robust infrastructure, and prepared communities. Chicago is defined as a major transportation hub for people and goods; national shipping and transport systems rely on the city’s critical infrastructure to succeed. It is hard to believe that, with the second largest transportation system in the U.S., many Chicagoans are disconnected from transportation and isolated from easy access to economic, educational, and recreational opportunities.

Additionally, the fundamental need for a clean water supply has its own infrastructure challenges. Two of the world’s largest water plants supply over 5.5 million people in the Chicagoland area with clean water. However, around 25% of the water and sewer mains transporting clean water are over a century old. Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s Building a New Chicago initiative accelerated the number of annual water main replacements by 300%. The city plans to upgrade infrastructure and improve water use and management practices to reduce flooding and strain on the water system, for example with green infrastructure, to help build resiliency to water scarcity. 

The strategy also calls out actions to build microgrids and distributed energy resources particularly aimed at underserved and disconnected communities. Key indicators to measure include reduction in city greenhouse gas emissions and increased adoption of renewable energy. Additionally, persons traditionally underrepresented in climate policy will be better included under the Chicago Climate Charter, created in December 2017. It is the ideal moment for businesses and residents to build on the momentum of the Resilient Chicago Strategy.

Join Advanced Energy Group on March 14 at the Q1 breakfast series to discuss resiliency, critical infrastructure, and microgrids as they relate to the Chicagoland area and state of Illinois. The breakfast will feature a panel of experts, small group brainstorming activities, and actionable next steps. Speakers include: 

  • Stephen Humes, Partner, Holland & Knight

  • Stefan Schaffer, Chief Resilience Officer, City of Chicago

  • Brien Sheahan, Chairman and CEO, Illinois Commerce Commission

  • Andrew Jones, Senior Vice President Global Sales, S&C Electric

  • Jim Kavicky, Program Manager, Infrastructure Resilience, Argonne National Laboratory

  • Joyce Coffee, President, Climate Resilience Consulting

Discussion leaders will delve into the resilience of electric infrastructure in Chicago and Illinois and the future of the grid. With projections of increased extreme weather, how can Chicago equip itself to avoid and sustain “cracks” in the electric grid? Join the conversation and be part of the solution by registering here.

Advanced Energy Group is a stakeholder member-supported organization committed to developing and delivering advanced energy policies and solutions in key cities.  Stakeholder sessions are by invitation only.  For details of our programming please visit:

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