Shoreline Protection Project

About the Chicago Shoreline Protection Project

Project: Chicago Shoreline Protection Project (Interim III)
Authorization: Water Resources Development Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-303)
Type: Shoreline Protection/Flood and Storm Damage Reduction-Construction
Federal Sponsor: United States Army Corps of Engineers
State Cooperating Agency: Illinois Department of Natural Resources
Local Sponsors: City of Chicago Department of Environment, Chicago Park District

Project Background:

Chicago's existing shoreline protection was built between 1910 and 1931. Known as revetments, the shoreline protection comprised of wood pile cribs filled with stones in the shape of steps. In the 1950s, the wood piles began collapsing, leaving shoreline protection structures and park land to erode and wash away. In 1964, the year when Chicago recorded the all-time lowest water levels on Lake Michigan, the wood piles became exposed and started rotting, further increasing the erosion process.

Due to their age and deteriorated condition, these structures no longer provide adequate protection for Lake Shore Drive, a Federal highway adjacent to this shoreline, and other public facilities. This threat of damage prompted Congress in 1974 to direct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to investigate these and related erosion problems along the entire Illinois Lake Michigan shoreline.

As cooperating agencies, the City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District worked with the Chicago District Army Corps of Engineers on the Feasibility Study which was used to determine that Federal assistance should be provided to protect the shores of Lake Michigan from future storm damage and erosion. The final Feasibility Report and recommended plan for reconstruction was presented by the Army Corps of Engineers to Congress in 1994. From this report, the eight most critical miles of the lakefront were designated for reconstruction.

The project areas are broken up into "reaches," each reach encompassing different sections of the shoreline. They are:

  • Reach 2-step stone revetment reconstruction in the area from Montrose to Fullerton Avenue
  • Reach 2F-breakwater and beach nourishment at Fullerton Avenue to prevent flooding of the Fullerton Avenue exit and entrance ramps to Lake Shore Drive
  • Reach 3-step stone revetment reconstruction at Solidarity Drive
  • Reach 3M-revetment reconstruction along east and south sides of the apron of Meigs Field Airport
  • Reach 4-step stone revetment reconstruction from 23rd Street to 57th Street alongside Lake Shore Drive
  • Reach 5-breakwater reconstruction protecting the South Water Purification Plant

In 1996 Congress authorized Federal funds to be used for reconstructing the eight miles of the Chicago shoreline and a breakwater that protects the City's South Water Purification Plant. The total cost of the project is estimated at $301 million. Of this amount, the Federal Sponsor U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will contribute an estimated $171.7 million, while the Local Sponsors, consisting of City of Chicago and Chicago Park District, will contribute approximately $129.3 million. Of this amount, approximately one third, or $42 million, will be contributed by the State of Illinois through its Department of Natural Resources.


The preferred design of the revetment is vertical steel sheet piles to replace the damaged wood piles, and concrete steps and promenade to replace the existing stones. This design maintains safe access to the shoreline while preserving its historical and aesthetic value. However, the reconstruction will not consist entirely of step stone revetments. Some areas such as Fullerton Avenue and the 47th Street Morgan Shoal, provide great opportunities not only to expand the lakefront but also to diversify amenities.