Tuesday, October 29, 2019

October 29, 1954 -- Chicago Skyway Clears Major Hurdle


October 29, 1954 – The Traffic and Public Safety Committee of the Chicago City Council recommends that 80 million dollars in revenue bonds be issued to finance the construction of the Calumet Skyway that will run from One Hundred Sixth Street and Indianapolis Boulevard to Michigan Avenue and Sixtieth Street.  The plan is to issue the bonds in December and start construction of the elevated tollway early in 1955.  The term “tollway” was not used at the time.  The Skyway was officially called a toll bridge because the city’s charter contained no authority to construct a toll road, so the roadway was planned as a bridge with an approach that was six miles long.  Consequently, anyone traveling on the road will not see an exit until he or she has paid the toll and crossed over the Calumet River.  The road will take nearly three years to construct at a cost of $101 million, nearly a billion dollars in today’s market.  The first paying customer paid a quarter to navigate the roadway’s southeastern route.  In 2004 he city leased the 7.8-mile route for 99 years to a Australian and Spanish consortium in a deal that brought $1.82 billion to the city’s coffers in the first privatization of an existing toll road in the United States.  That lease was purchased in 2016 by three Canadian pension funds.  Today the price of traveling the route in a car is $5.30.  

October 29, 1895 –Rohn’s Pavilion on West Lake Street is in an uproar as businessmen and West Side citizens crowd into a meeting “to give expression to their opposition to the location of a part of the central elevated loop in Van Buren street instead of Harrison street.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, October 29, 1895] The fear is that running the tracks as far south as Harrison Street will entice merchants to set up shop south of the current business district, rather than westward, penalizing those on the West Side.  A resolution is passed requesting the City Council “to grant the use of Van Buren street for the south side of the loop, and, believing that the building of the loop will benefit the owners of property on Van Buren street, we request that they take all proper action toward securing its location as above indicated.”  An alderman by the name of Stanwood slams the “spiritless” efforts of voters on the West Side to demand anything of the city.  “What had the West Side in the way of public improvements at present,” he asks. “It had only the County Hospital, the Smallpox Hospital, and the dog pound. It could not even get its streets lighted.”  He implores those present to do everything they can “to let the city know there was a West Side.”  Time is of the essence as 150 men are already at work on foundations for the elevated structure on Wabash Avenue with plans to reach as far south as Madison Street in the next several days.  For whatever reason, the voices of the West Siders were heard. The Loop elevated line still runs along Van Buren Street instead of the Harrison Street east-west leg that was originally proposed.  The above photo shows the completed Loop elevated in 1897 with a train headed east on Van Buren Street.  Note the Old Colony building in the background to the left.  It is still there.

October 29, 1913 – The city’s Board of Supervising Engineers releases a report that predicts doom for the city unless something is done to solve its transportation problem.  Representing the board, Blon J. Arnold proposes the construction of an extensive system of subways that would cost as much as $18,000,000.  One tube should run under Clark Street from North Avenue to Twenty-Second Street.  The second bore would be a “loop” entering the downtown section through a tunnel beneath the river at Washington Street, heading east to Michigan Avenue and heading west by way of a tunnel under the river at Van Buren Street.  Three other subways are proposed as part of the plan, serving the north, south and west sides of the city.  Arnold notes that the average speed of streetcars passing through the downtown district is about five miles an hour.  He says, “This low schedule speed is caused by surface traffic congestion – car, vehicular, and pedestrian – and conditions are steadily becoming worse.  This average schedule speed should be increased to equal or exceed the present average speed in outlying districts or free running territory, and the only method of securing this increased speed, as well as increased capacity is by the construction and operation of subways through the congested district.”  The engineers’ report represents another example of how slowly the wheels of government can turn.  The first subway in Chicago would not open for another 30 years.  The photo above shows South Water Street in 1910.

October 29, 1902 -- The members of the Drainage Board approve the issuance of $1,000,000 worth of bonds with the money from the sale to be used for the construction of bascule bridges and for the widening of the river.  The bonds will be payable over a 20 year period and will pay four percent interest.  Board members also approve the purchase of the plant and property of the Norton Milling Company at the Madison Street Bridge for $225,000.  The property will be cleared and used to widen the river at this point.  The original asking price is $400,000, but when the sanitary district threatens to acquire it by condemnation the offer is lowered by $175,000.  With this move the city finally begins to deal with the problems that its antiquated center-pier bridges cause, problems that go back years but which gain special emphasis in January of 1901 when the city engineer refuses to take any further responsibility for nine fragile bridges.  The swing bridge at Madison Street, completed in 1893, is pictured above.  Note the narrowness of the draw on either side of the turntable.  Imagine piloting a boat headed toward the bridge in a strong west wind, and you get some idea of how little margin for error there was in navigating the river in the days before the bascule bridges.

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