Chicago Expressways ... What the heck is the Eisenhower?

February 20 2007

One of the things about Chicago driving is that we tend to ignore the Interstate numbers .. completely. Add in a stretch of Expressway that has two numbers and more than 2 names, it can get confusing when listening to traffic reports on TV and radio. The Chicagoist has a great blog entry today

The Dan Ryan "runs from the Circle Interchange with I-290 near downtown Chicago, Illinois through the south side of the city. It is signposted as both Interstate 90 and Interstate 94 north of 66th Street and only Interstate 94 from 66th Street to 99th Street." It opened in 1962 and was named after Cook County Board President Dan Ryan Jr., who had died the previous year. During the initial construction of the highway, it was generally conceded that the location was chosen in order to "reinforce Chicago's racial boundaries ... [forming] a more effective barrier between the largely black South Side ghetto and the largely white working-class neighborhood of Bridgeport to the west."

The Stevenson, I-55, refers to former one-term Illinois governor (he was elected in 1948) Adlai E. Stevenson II. The highway opened in 1964, Stevenson died in 1965, and the highway was named after him right after that. Stevenson also ran for president against Dwight Eisenhower two times (and obviously lost), and, more successfully, was the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. from 1961 until he died.

Speaking of Eisenhower, the Eisenhower Expressway, or I-290, was, of course, named after former president Dwight Eisenhower. As a result, we tend to shorten the name of the expressway to the Ike. You might also hear it called the Congress Expressway, after the street downtown that the highway turns into. The expressway first opened in 1955.

The Edens Expressway is I-94 running north from the city, and opened in 1951, making it the very first expressway in Chicago. We'll let you decide if that's a blessing or a curse. The road was named after William Edens, a Chicago banker who was in charge of the Illinois Highway Improvement Association, advocated paved roads, but apparently never actually drove a car.

In 1996, the Bishop Ford Freeway was named after Chicago religious activist and apostle of the National Church of God in Christ, Bishop Louis Henry Ford. The freeway itself is a portion of I-94 which "runs from Interstate 57 south to the intersection with Interstate 80, Interstate 294 (Tri-State Tollway) and Illinois Route 394."

We're only going to mention the Kennedy Expressway to tell you that it's I-90, and opened in 1960. We think you can figure out for yourself who it's named after. It used to be called (and again, you might still hear this from time to time) the Northwest Expressway, but was dedicated to JFK in 1963 following his assassination.

Hope that helps some folks.

Note: Interesting enough .. the XM Radio Chicago traffic channel uses both the name and number. Since they are reporting from Washington, D.C., I wonder why clued them in. :-)