Sunday, October 27, 2019

The 1960s-1970s Proposed Chicago Crosstown Expressway, designated Interstate 494.

The Crosstown Expressway (Interstate 494), was a proposed highway route in Chicago, Illinois. It was initially proposed in the 1960s and 1970s.
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).
South of this confluence, the route would continue south in a reverse direction, split-arrangement with the northbound highway lanes depressed along Cicero Avenue and the southbound lanes depressed along the Belt Railway of Chicago tracks. Continuing south past the proposed traffic interchange at Chicago Midway International Airport, the expressway alignment was to turn southeasterly at 67th Street and continue over Belt Railway right-of-way to Lawndale Avenue then turn easterly towards the Dan Ryan Expressway along Norfolk Southern Railway right-of-way (now Metra-South West Service) and 75th Street to an interchange with the Dan Ryan Expressway (Interstate 94) north of 91st Street.
Model for Chicago... Where the Crosstown Expressway Would Be Built. View of Midway Airport in Corner.
Extra lanes were planned to extend north from the proposed Dan Ryan/Crosstown interchange to connect with the Chicago Skyway (Interstate 90) near 66th and State Streets.

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.
On February 25, 1967, the federal government proposed the Crosstown Expressway be redesigned as a 'total development concept' that would integrate mass transit, high-rise apartment buildings, commercial and industrial zones, and green space. Mayor of Chicago Richard J. Daley stated the road would be "the most modern and beautiful expressway in the nation". By 1972, the Crosstown Expressway had emerged as the national testing ground for a new kind of urban Expressway centered upon neighborhood integration rather than regional development. Community groups strongly opposed these plans; notably the Citizens Action Program (CAP) and the Anti-Crosstown Action Committee, who turned the proposed Expressway into a pivotal issue in the 1972 local, state, and federal elections. Dan Walker, an independent Democrat defeated incumbent Illinois governor Richard Ogilvie 51% to 49% on a strong anti-Crosstown platform. Governor Walker appeared at the 1973 CAP annual convention to declare the Crosstown Expressway will not be built.

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.

Additional Reading: 
The Chicago Crosstown Expressway, by the Commissioner of Public Works, City of Chicago.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  1. I would have loved to use such a highway. If it ever does become realized, I won't be driving anymore. ��

    Karen M

  2. I remember as a child growing up in the 60's and 70's hearing my parents talk about this with great concern. My mom was scared we were going to lose our house as we lived at Montrose and the Kennedy. When it was cancelled they was very happy. So the Crosstown project has always had bad connotations for me. Good information in this blog. Thanks.

  3. I remember "Crosstown" being a very bad word growing up in the later 60's and 1970's in the Scottsdale / Ashburn neighborhood. The highway would have devastated the neighborhood, tearing down houses and for the blue collar families living in that neighborhood your home equity was your primary source of your wealth. My parents were very relieved when plans were scuttled.

  4. We do need some kind of Highway to bypass the downtown area. What a mess it is now.

  5. Just take western or Ashland

    1. Western and Ashland Avenues are anything but express. From Devon Avenue (6400N) to 76th Street south on Western, took anywhere from 60 minutes to 80 minutes, both morning and evening rush hours.


The Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal™ is RATED PG-13. Please comment accordingly. Advertisements, spammers and scammers will be removed.