The Crosstown Expressway was to begin from a connection with the Kennedy Expressway and Edens Expressway (Interstates 90 & 94) near Montrose Avenue on the city's Northwest Side. It was to follow an alignment parallel, and adjacent to the Belt Railway of Chicago, approximately one-half mile east of Cicero Avenue and extend southerly over railroad right-of-way through the West Side of Chicago, and across the Sanitary and Ship Canal to a connection with the Stevenson Expressway (Interstate 55).
|Model for Chicago... Where the Crosstown Expressway Would Be Built. View of Midway Airport in Corner.|
Originally the I-494 number was to be used for a freeway upgrade of Lake Shore Drive that was also canceled; when the Crosstown Expressway inherited that number, the LSD proposal was then renumbered to I-694.
The origins of the Crosstown Expressway can be found in Burnham and Bennett's 1909 Plan of Chicago, which proposed a grand circumferential road to divert traffic around central Chicago. The route was incorporated in the Chicago Plan Commission's plans for post-war highway construction. The 1956 Federal-Aid Highways Act spurred extensive construction around Chicago, but by 1960, the Crosstown Expressway was the only route included in the region's postwar transportation plans yet to break ground. The State of Illinois, Cook County, and the City of Chicago formed the Crosstown Expressway Task Force in 1963. According to then Chicago Commissioner for Public Works, Milton Pikarsky, the Task Force aimed "to demonstrate the feasibility of the proposed expressway... in sufficient detail so that the need for an expressway could not be challenged". Public resentment over the experience of highway construction in the late 1950s and early 1960s, however, prompted a comprehensive re-evaluation of the Crosstown route.
Political wrangling over the Crosstown Expressway continued between Walker and Mayor Daley until the latter's death in December 1976. Changing public opinion on urban highway construction, the mid-1970s energy crisis, and rapidly escalating costs (from the 'total development concept' additions and runaway inflation rates) ultimately undermined the Expressway. Restructured proposals for the southern leg of the Crosstown route were agreed by Chicago Mayor Michael Bilandic and Illinois Governor James R. Thompson in March 1977. However, in January 1979, the Crosstown Expressway project was finally canceled by then-Mayor of Chicago Jane M. Byrne and Governor Thompson. In the $2 billion in federal funds earmarked for the Crosstown Expressway and (never-built) Franklin Line Subway was then reallocated to Chicago's struggling regional transit agencies, and to other pressing road improvements across northeastern Illinois. These funds would eventually support the extension of the Blue Line to O'Hare International Airport and the construction of the Orange Line to Midway Airport.
In 2001, Mayor Richard M. Daley announced plans for a Mid-City Transitway, using the alignment of the Chicago Belt Line Railway that the Crosstown Expressway route was to have followed. The Mid-City project was placed in the Chicago Area Transportation Study's Destination 2020: Regional Transportation Plan and still awaits study and approval. Proposals for a Circle Line providing circumferential transit options closer to the Loop have been prioritized over-investment in the Transitway project by city officials and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP).
On February 21, 2007, Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives Michael Madigan proposed legislation that would make a future Crosstown Expressway a part of the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority (ISTHA). However, the proposal was not previously looked at by the office of the mayor, governor, the ISTHA or the Illinois Department of Transportation, and did not proceed any further.
The Chicago Crosstown Expressway, by the Commissioner of Public Works, City of Chicago.
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.