Daniel H. Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago considered Chicago as the centre of a region extending 75 miles from the city centre. At the dawn of the automobile age, the plan diagrammed both radial and circumferential highways for the region. The vision at this early stage was simply creating elaborate park-like boulevards.
However, the agencies who built and improved highways in the 1910’s and 1920’s do not appear to have been guided to build along the specific routes recommended in the plan. The lone exception was Congress.
Burnham’s Plan of Chicago, 1909, Page 93
December 1927 Plan
October 1939 Plan
In 1940, the City Council of Chicago established the Westside Route, or Congress Expressway, as their first priority in a comprehensive superhighway system. The work on Congress was expected to begin quickly since the war was over, but skyrocketing costs, limited funding, extensive utility relocation, poor subsurface conditions, and the need for agreements with three railroads, municipalities and a cemetery all added time and cost to the project schedule. Construction would also have to accommodate the CTA Congress Line in the median and the temporary relocation of the Douglas Park CTA line. As a result, the first section of the expressway was not completed until December 1954.
February 1940 Plan
By the time Congress created the Interstate Highway System in 1956, nearly all Chicago-area expressways were laid out, but federal funding pushed construction into high gear. The Kennedy Expressway opened in 1960, linking the Loop to the new O’Hare Airport and the Northwest Tollway (I-90). The Dan Ryan Expressway opened to 95th Street in 1961–62. The abandoned Illinois & Michigan Canal provided a convenient right-of-way through the city for the Stevenson Expressway (I-55), opened in 1964. Much of cross-country Interstate 80, skirting the south edge of the metropolitan area, opened at the same time.
Comprehensive Superhighway System