September 25, 2007

Chicago Highways

Even though I’ve lived in Chicago all my life, I have to admit that I haven’t done very much driving on the city’s interstate highways. That’s why I always have to “translate” directions from Chicago natives. Chicagoans do not call each of the seven major highways by their Interstate numbers. Instead, the roadways are known by various given names, completely confusing anyone not from the area.

Interstate 190Interstate 94Interstate 90For example, Interstate 90/94/190 is better known as “the Kennedy.” It runs east-west between the Circle Interchange (in downtown Chicago) and O’Hare International Airport. The CTA Blue Line train runs right down the middle of this roadway, between the inbound and outbound lanes. This expressway opened in 1960 and was renamed to honor the late president in 1963. Along with the Dan Ryan, the Kennedy is the busiest road in Illinois.

Interstate 290“The Eisenhower” is Interstate 290, running east-west between the Loop and the near west suburbs. Opened in 1954, it was originally known as “the Congress,” but was renamed in 1964. (Interstate 294/88 in Hillside is known as the “290 Extension.”)

Highway 41Interstate 94“The Edens” runs north-south and is made up of U.S. Highway 41 and Interstate 94. Travelling from the Lake and Cook County Line to the Kennedy Expressway, this roadway was named after William G. Edens, an early advocate for paved roads and a sponsor of Illinois’ first highway bond issue in 1918. The headache of many commuters, it is one of the busiest expressways in the city and will only get busier as it is scheduled for rehabilitating and resurfacing work from late September to early November of this year.

Interstate 55I-55 is usually called “the Stevenson” and is the main connector between the Loop and the southwest suburbs. From the junction with Lake Shore Drive (near the McCormick Place convention center), the Stevenson heads southwest to the Spaghetti Bowl where it interchanges with the Dan Ryan before heading to the south and southwestern neighborhoods of Chicago. It then continues past Chicago Midway International Airport and out of the city. This expressway opened on October 24, 1964 as the “Southwest Expressway” and was renamed after Adlai E. Stevenson II (the former governor of Illinois) in 1965.

Interstate 94Formerly known as “the Calumet,” “the Bishop Ford” is a portion of Interstate 94 south of downtown Chicago. It starts at the southern point of the Dan Ryan and heads through Chicago’s south side and southern suburbs. It is the only roadway officially named as a Freeway in the city and its surrounding area.

Interstate 57Interstate 57 is the outsider of the bunch, the only Chicago-area expressway that doesn’t have a moniker attached. It runs from the Dan Ryan-Bishop Ford junction into the southern suburbs. It was once known as the “Dan Ryan West Leg,” but the name has slowly faded out of common usage.

Interstate 94Interstate 90Finally, we come to the current migraine of Chicago: “the Dan Ryan.” Carrying the shields of both Interstates 90 and 94, this expressway runs from the Circle Interchange through the south side of the city. What makes this roadway especially confusing is the fact that it runs north-south on an east-west Interstate. Therefore, if you’re traveling “west” on the Dan Ryan, you’re actually driving north; in the same regard, “east” is south. To save yourself some confusion, when in Rome Chicago, do as the Chicagoans do: simply refer to the directions of travel as “inbound” and “outbound,” in relation to downtown.

The Dan Ryan has fourteen lanes of traffic, seven in each direction. (The CTA Red Line train runs right down the middle.) On each side, four are express lanes, and three are “local,” with easy access to exits. Despite all that space and organization, this road is the busiest in all of Illinois and is often prone to traffic jams. To make matters worse, the city began the most massive construction plan known to date in 2006, closing all local lanes of the Dan Ryan, thereby cutting the number of lanes in half (or less in many places). Drivers are encouraged to avoid the Dan Ryan as much as they possibly can and to take alternate routes. While the city reports that 80% of the necessary work is done and is projecting to have all lanes and exit ramps open by 2008, my experience with Chicago construction leaves me skeptical.


2 comments to Chicago Highways

  1. The Best of The Chicago Traveler 2007
    December 31st, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    [...] Chicago Highways. Chicagoans rarely call the seven major highways by their actual names. Instead, we rely on [...]

  2. Chicago Words
    August 30th, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    [...] in the U.S. Or, at least, not always in the same way. I touched on this a bit in my post about Chicago highways. Rather than call our local expressways by their route numbers, we refer to them by nicknames. [...]

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