Monday, December 9, 2013

Illinois Toll Roads, Getting Started -- December 9, 1953

I-294 today, 60 years after it was first proposed (
Life began to change for Illinois drivers 60 years ago on this date as Governor William Stratton, the youngest governor in the country at the time, endorsed the concept of Illinois toll road construction in a speech before the 47th annual convention of the Associated General Contractors of Illinois.

“Toll roads for Illinois are no longer a speculation,” the governor stated.  “They are an imminent development long overdue.  They are an urgent necessity.  There are the key to important highways of the near future for Illinois and for all America.”

In some ways the job of Illinois was made easier because of its tardiness in getting started.  The Ohio turnpike was already under construction at the time, and Michigan was in the advanced planning stages for a turnpike from Detroit to Benton Harbor, swinging south from there to Chicago.  Iowa was also planning its east-west route, and Missouri had two turnpikes in the planning stages, both reaching Illinois at St. Louis.

It seemed that all the Land of Lincoln had to do was connect the dots.

Governor Stratton (
“Illinois is the center of this development and will have to furnish the links across tis state . . . the most critical problem is the Chicago area,” Governor Stratton said.  “To avoid the expense of building in Chicago we might go around the city . . . We can make three or four surveys simultaneously.  While engaging some engineering consultants on the Chicagoland feasibility studies, others can look into the possibilities of U. S. 66 as a toll project from Mount Olive into East St. Louis.”

The Illinois Toll Highway Authority was created in 1941, but things didn’t really begin to move along until the governor made his address in 1953 since World War Ii and a shortage of materials after the war made any construction effort impossible.  It was in 1953 that the Illinois State Toll Highway Commission was established and began its planning.

Within five years, by 1958, the surveys were completed, the land purchased, and three toll roads had been.  We know them today as the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90), the Tri-State Tollway (I-94), and the Ronald Reagan Tollway (I-88).  From that endorsement of Governor Stratton back on this date in 1953 came today’s present system of four toll roads covering 286 miles in 12 northern Illinois counties.

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