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Friday, May 24

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In December 2003, I wrote an article in this same space titled "40 Minutes from O'Hare to Downtown: A Guide to Chicago Traffic." In it, I attempted to demystify some of the local jargon that characterizes Chicago traffic reports by providing a glossary of some of the most frequently used terms.

That original glossary was far from comprehensive, and the past year included several major changes to our traffic landscape. Among the changes included another Illinois highway renamed for a late American President, the firm shove towards the automated I-PASS system and the grand reopening of two of our quaint, yet lovable, tollway oases.

This new glossary addresses some of the glaring oversights from the first article, addresses some of the changes that occurred in 2004, and even lets you in on a few "secret" terms only the most hardcore Chicago drivers know.

Glossary of Chicago Traffic Terms

95th Street: On the far South Side of Chicago, 95th Street is a major marker for travel time reports, often abbreviated to simply 95th. The street marks the southern end of the Dan Ryan Expressway (I-90/94) and the northern starting points for both Interstate 57 and the Bishop Ford Freeway (I-94).

Allstate Arena: If you listen to traffic reports on any Clear Channel radio station, you will hear Allstate Arena used as a traffic landmark instead of O'Hare International Airport. Why? Because Allstate Arena has an exclusive booking deal with Clear Channel Entertainment, and the selling of the traffic reports is part of the corporation's slimy "Traffic Destination Rights Program." But anyway, the Allstate Arena, formerly known as the Rosemont Horizon, is a major sports/concert venue located very close to O'Hare Airport and is visible from the Northwest Tollway. The stadium was originally built in 1979. Long-time Chicago residents vividly remember the tragedy that occurred during the building's initial construction when the partially-completed roof collapsed, killing five construction workers and injuring more than a dozen others.

Bishop Ford Freeway (I-94): Originally known as the Calumet Expressway, the Bishop Louis Henry Ford Freeway was renamed in 1996 after the long-time pastor of St. Paul's Church at 4528 South Wabash in Chicago, who passed away in 1995. The Bishop Ford first opened in 1950 and serves as a connection between the Dan Ryan Expressway and I-80 at the Indiana border.

Circle Interchange: The Circle Interchange refers to the spot at Congress Parkway where the Dan Ryan, Kennedy and Eisenhower Expressways meet just west of the Loop. The circle shape created by the twisting spirals of exit and entrance ramps between the expressways at this point gave the interchange its name. Circle Interchange is frequently used as a location marker for travel times, and reporters sometimes shorten it to just "Circle."

Dan Ryan Expressway (I-90/94): The Dan Ryan Expressway, which opened in 1962, is named for Daniel B. Ryan, president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners from 1954 to 1961, and refers to the stretch of I-90/94 that runs from downtown Chicago south to 95th Street. With a whopping 14 lanes, the Dan Ryan is also one of the widest expressways in the world. It links I-57 to the south with the Stevenson and Eisenhower Expressways. Then I-90/94 becomes the Kennedy Expressway as it continues off to the northwest towards O'Hare Airport.

East-West Tollway (I-88): I-88, the East-West Tollway, begins near Sterling and runs east across the state where it ends at the Tri-State Tollway (I-294) near Elmhurst. It's now referred to as the Ronald Reagan Memorial Highway and Tollway (see below).

Edens Expressway (I-94): The Edens Expressway, named for Chicago banker and highway advocate William G. Edens, opened in 1951 and is one of Chicago's oldest expressways. It was constructed to connect Skokie Highway (U.S. Route 41) with the proposed, but not yet built, Kennedy Expressway. As a result, the Edens begins near Montrose Avenue in Chicago, where it meets the Kennedy, and stretches north to end where it meets Route 41 at Lake Cook Road.

Edens Spur: The Edens Spur is a tollway extension connecting the Edens Expressway to the Tri-State Tollway (I-294) at the northern end of the Edens, just south of Lake Cook Road. Often referred to simply as "The Spur."

Eisenhower Expressway (I-290): The Eisenhower Expressway, originally known as the Congress Expressway, first opened to traffic in 1955. It was renamed after former-President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1964. The Eisenhower Expressway (I-290), also known simply as the Ike, extends west from the Loop through the western suburbs until it intersects the Tri-State Tollway (I-294). Then I-290 turns northward, ending at the Northwest Tollway (I-90), where the same road becomes Route 53.

Elgin-O'Hare Expressway: The most hilariously named expressway, given that it neither begins in Elgin nor ends at O'Hare, but if completed as originally proposed, the expressway intends to connect these two places. Currently, however, the Elgin-O'Hare only acts as a bridge between Lake Street (U.S. Route 20) on the west and I-290 on the east.

Hillside Strangler: The area long known as the Hillside Strangler once had the dubious distinction of being one of the worst traffic bottlenecks in the country. It marked a point at which the East-West Tollway (I-88) and the Tri-State (I-294) merged into a one-lane entrance to the Eisenhower Expressway. The interchange took its name from nearby suburban Hillside. In 2001, improvements to alleviate the congestion, including additional lanes, were completed. Although traffic flow has improved on the ramps feeding into the Eisenhower, driving near the interchange during rush hour is still no picnic.

Hubbard's Cave: Although seldom heard in traffic reports these days, ability to identify Hubbard's Cave will quickly separate the Chicago natives from the wannabes. The Cave refers to the underpass on the Kennedy Expressway (I-90/94) that begins just north of the Loop, near Hubbard Street. It may also be called Hubbard's Tunnel.

I-57: At about 358 miles long, I-57 is the longest interstate in Illinois. It begins at 95th Street on Chicago's South Side, connecting with the southern end of the Dan Ryan. I-57 then runs south through the state, crossing into Missouri after passing through Cairo.

IDOT: The acronym for the Illinois Department of Transportation, pronounced eye-dot. IDOT is responsible for the "planning, construction and maintenance of Illinois' extensive transportation network, which encompasses highways and bridges, airports, public transit, rail freight and rail passenger systems." The Department's Division of Traffic Safety is also concerned with all forms of highway safety, including enforcing drunk driving and seat belt laws.

Inbound/Outbound: The concept of inbound and outbound might be one of the most integral to deciphering local traffic reports. In the world of Chicago traffic, downtown Chicago is the center of the universe. Inbound and outbound travel, therefore, is relative to whether you can be said to be traveling towards the downtown area or away from it. If you are roughly headed towards the Loop on any of the major expressways or tollways, then you are traveling inbound. Likewise, if the Chicago skyline appears in your rearview mirror, you are heading outbound.

Inner and Outer Drives: Lake Shore Drive is comprised of both the Inner and Outer Drives. The Outer Drive refers to U.S. Route 41, which runs closest to the Lake. The Inner Drive refers to the local street that runs roughly parallel to US 41; you may be on Lake Shore Drive, Sheridan Road or Marine Drive depending on where you are along its meandering path.

I-PASS: I-PASS is an electronic, automatic toll-payment system that allows drivers to pay tolls on the Illinois Tollway System without having to stop and fumble for change. Recently, the Illinois State Tollway Authority doubled toll rates for vehicles without an I-PASS.

Kennedy Expressway (I-90): Completed in 1960, the Kennedy Expressway was specifically built to provide a direct route from the Eisenhower Expressway to O'Hare International Airport. Originally named the Northwest Expressway, it was rechristened the John F. Kennedy Expressway exactly one week after the President's assassination in 1963. The Kennedy begins where I-90/94 intersects with the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) in downtown Chicago, and it ends at O'Hare Airport, where I-90 becomes the Northwest Tollway.

Kennedy Junction (Montrose): The Kennedy Junction is the name given to the point at which the Edens meets and merges into the Kennedy Expressway. It may also be referred to as simply the Junction. Because the Kennedy Junction is located near Montrose Avenue, some traffic reporters, such as in the example transcribed above, may also refer to the Kennedy Junction as Montrose.

Kingery Expressway (I-80/94): The Robert Kingery Expressway is only three miles long, but it provides an essential link between the Bishop Ford Freeway and the Indiana state line. One of the Chicago area's earliest expressways, it opened in 1950 as the Tri-State Highway. It was renamed in 1953 after Robert Kingery, a former state director of public works, who also served for many years as the general manager of the Chicago Regional Planning Association.

Lake Cook Road: Lake Cook Road is a major east-west street that, as its name suggests, marks the dividing line between Cook and Lake County in the northern suburbs. Lake Cook Road also marks the northern end of the Edens Expressway.

Lake Shore Drive (U.S. Route 41): Affectionately known as LSD or The Drive, Lake Shore Drive runs from Hollywood Avenue at its northern end to 67th Street on the South Side, with Monroe Avenue serving as the midpoint for traffic times, i.e., "30 minutes from Hollywood to Monroe." The Drive mostly runs near the edge of Lake Michigan, providing one of the most scenic drives in the city. Unfortunately, the history of Lake Shore Drive is much too lengthy to be covered here. One must mention, however, that Aliotta, Haynes, and Jeremiah immortalized LSD in the 1970s in their classic folk song, "Lake Shore Drive." Listening to the song on a sunny day while "slippin' on by on LSD, Friday night trouble bound" is a quintessential lazy summer experience.

Mannheim: Mannheim Road is often mentioned as a starting or ending point for travel times on the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) because Mannheim is very close to the western terminus of the expressway. It is also just east of the once-infamous Hillside Strangler and still a hot spot for traffic congestion.

Mile Long Bridge: This is another local term you are not likely to hear in traffic reports anymore, but knowing it will give you that warm, smug feeling inside. The Mile Long Bridge refers to the bridge on I-294 that spans the Main Channel of the Sanitary and Ship Canal between 75th Street and Archer Avenue near southwest suburban Willow Springs.

North-South Tollway (I-355): I-355, known as the North-South Tollway, opened in 1989. It begins in the north in Itasca at I-290 and ends in the south in Bolingbrook, where it connects to I-55.

Northwest Tollway (I-90): The stretch of I-90 designated as the Northwest Tollway starts in the east where the Kennedy Expressway ends near O'Hare Airport. The tollway runs northwest across the state to Rockford and ends at the Wisconsin state line.

Oases: The Illinois Tollway System includes seven oases perched over the tollways and providing food, gas and other services to long-distance motorists. Most of the oases were built in the late 1950s, during a different era of travel. But in the past few years the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority has undertaken a massive renovation project to rebuild the outdated structures. In 2004 two of the new oases were reopened: the O'Hare Oasis, located on the Tri-State Tollway just south of Irving Park Road, and the Belvidere Oasis on the Northwest Tollway, way out near Rockford. Like the toll plazas, however, the oases make convenient landmarks for traffic reporters. As a result, even though they are still under construction, the Hinsdale Oasis on the Tri-State, just north of I-55, and the Des Plaines Oasis on the Northwest Tollway, near O'Hare Airport, still figure heavily in local traffic reports.

Post Office: Instead of simply saying "the Loop" for the downtown starting point of Eisenhower Expressway, many traffic reporters say, for example, that it is "30 minutes from the Post Office to Route 53." The Post Office in question is the building that spans the Eisenhower Expressway as the expressway ends and turns into Congress Parkway in the Loop. Ironically, the building is no longer Chicago's main post office and has been vacant since 1995 when the city moved its main postal operations to a new building south of Harrison. The Old Post Office Building contains 2.5 million square feet of space and was the largest postal facility in the world when it was completed in 1933.

Reversibles or Express Lanes: The Kennedy Expressway has both local and express lanes. Theoretically, the express lanes whisk you towards your destination faster because there are fewer exits and entrances. The express lanes are also sometimes called the reversibles because they switch direction during the day. During the morning rush-hour, the express lanes are usually open for traveling inbound, and during the evening rush they switch to the other direction for outbound drivers.

Ronald Reagan Memorial Highway and Tollway (I-88): Shortly after the death of Ronald Reagan in 2004, Governor Blagojevich and the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority renamed a portion of Interstate 88 after the former President. Interstate 88 runs near Reagan's birthplace of Dixon.

Route 53: Like Thorndale, Route 53 is often mentioned as a location point for travel times on the Eisenhower Expressway. Route 53 merges with I-290 at Biesterfield Road in Arlington Heights, just about a mile north of Thorndale Avenue. The highway dead-ends at Lake Cook Road near Long Grove.

Skyway: The Chicago Skyway is a 7.8-mile elevated toll bridge that ostensibly acts as a shortcut between Chicago and Indiana. It connects the Dan Ryan Expressway (I-90/94) to the Indiana Toll Road. Originally called the Calumet Skyway Bridge, the Skyway was first opened to traffic in 1958, and it has the distinction of being the only tollway in Illinois not under the jurisdiction of the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority. Until recently, the Skyway was the responsibility of Chicago's Department of Streets and Sanitation. But late last year the city famously voted to privatize the Skyway, making it the first toll road in the United States to be managed by a private corporation. One last oddity is that, although the Skyway was planned as a continuation of I-90, it in fact has no official interstate designation.

Steel Bridge: You may be under the impression that Chicago has lots of steel bridges, but there is only one Steel Bridge. The Steel Bridge used to be a favorite landmark for traffic reporters, but you don't hear it much now. It is located on the Bishop Ford Freeway (I-94), where the highway crosses the Little Calumet River.

Stevenson Expressway (I-55): The Adlai E. Stevenson Expressway, named in 1965 for a former governor of Illinois, refers to the Chicago end of Interstate 55. This 16-mile expressway originally served to connect the Dan Ryan Expressway in the east with U.S. Route 66 at the Cook/Du Page County line. Today the Stevenson begins at Lake Shore Drive near McCormick Place and extends southwest, where it intersects with the Tri-State Tollway (I-294). I-55 continues southwest to St. Louis, roughly following the path of the historic Route 66.

Thorndale Avenue: Thorndale Avenue is only notable because it intersects I-290, the Eisenhower Expressway, in Itasca and connects the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway to the Eisenhower. For that reason, Thorndale is often mentioned in traffic reports as a location point.

Toll Plazas: Toll plazas on the Illinois Tollway System make easy landmarks for helicopter-bound traffic reporters, but traffic congestion also frequently occurs near the plazas as drivers slow down to pay. The recent push by the state, however, towards the automated I-PASS system and the simultaneous hike in toll fares for drivers without I-PASS, aims to ease some of this congestion. Nevertheless, travel times on the tollways often begin or end with one of the toll plazas. The Devon Toll Plaza is located on the Northwest Tollway (I-90) right near O'Hare Airport. The Touhy Toll Plaza is located on the Tri-State Tollway (I-294) just north of where I-294 crosses I-90, also near O'Hare Airport. Finally, another frequently mentioned plaza, the York Road Toll Plaza, can be found on the East-West Tollway (I-88) just west of I-294, near suburban Oak Brook.

Tri-State Tollway (I-294): The Tri-State Tollway forms a wide semi-circle around the outskirts of the city. I-294 connects with I-94 at both its northern end in Deerfield and its southern end in Lansing, but, as it passes around Chicago, the Tri-State Tollway also intersects with every other major expressway in the area.


About the Author(s)

Alice Maggio is assistant editor of Gapers Block and our resident librarian.

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