Almost every section of interstate in the metro area has a name. In fact, I-94 has five names between Wisconsin and Indiana, six if you count the Borman in Indiana. That can be a little confusing, trying to navigate your way around town.
There are nearly 3,000 miles of interstate that wind through Chicago and the suburbs today, but it took many decades of planning to achieve that. The first segment of expressway to open in 1949 was three and a half miles on the southern outskirts of Chicago at the Indiana border, the Kingery Expressway.
"It was named after a guy by the name of Robert Kingery, and Kingery was active in planning and transportation through the '20s, '30s, '40s and '50s," said transporation historian Andrew Plummer.
That stretch of I-80/94 bears his name because Kingery had the foresight to push for a limited-access highway system from Wisconsin to Michigan going through Illinois, but around Chicago, very similar to the Tri-State Tollway today.
Plummer, a retired planner, was exposed to our developing expressway system from an early age.
"My dad worked for the Cook County Highway Department after graduating from U. of Illinois in 1937 and worked for the highway department until he died in 1967, the last seven years as superintendent," said Plummer.
Plummer has the inside scoop on who the expressways were named after, as well as some little-known facts, going back to the beginning in 1949.
About the same time, another expressway opened, from the Kingery north to 130th St. You know it as the Bishop Ford Freeway, but prior to 1996 it had another name.
The Calumet Expressway was named after Lake Calumet, and the Calumet River, an area that was once the heart of a vast wet prairie system spanning over 22,000 acres! In 1996, the Illinois state legislature agreed to change the name from the Calumet Expressway to the Bishop Ford Freeway, in honor of Bishop Louis Henry Ford, the late leader of the National Church of God in Christ and a man with strong ties to the local community.
The next named expressway opened in December of 1950 and was called the Edens Superhighway. The Edens was named after William Edens, who was appointed in the early 1900s as the rural postmaster general for Illinois, however...
"He became the driving force behind the Illinois Improvement Association, which got the 1913 legislation passed to have the state build concrete roads," said Plummer.
There was only one sign, on the Edens at Cicero, proclaiming it a superhighway, which was the preferred phrase by the Cook County Highway Department, because they were building all the roads at the time. That only lasted a couple years as "expressway" became the word of choice in the Chicago area. William Edens, by the way, never owned a car.
After the Edens, it would be several years before the next expressways opened in the Chicago area, but once the Federal Highway Act was passed in 1956, federal money would now be available to build the interstate highway system, and things really took off here in Chicago.