So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright: Chicago’s Never-Built Crosstown Freeway

Commuters on Chicago’s I-90/I-94 Dan Ryan Expressway know what the term “sitting in traffic” means.  According to ABC Channel 7, Jason Knowles reports that several of the worst bottlenecks in Chicago traffic are all on the Dan Ryan, including one at Canalport Avenue and another at 18th Street.  The Dan Ryan has seven lanes in each direction, with four serving as “express lanes” and the remaining three serving local on and off-ramps.  That doesn’t stop traffic from slowing to a crawl at certain times of day, however:



One of the reasons traffic in Chicago is so bad are the limited number of directions you can travel in: since the entire city sits on the western shores of Lake Michigan, there is simply no way to go “northeast” or “east” or “southeast” from downtown (unless you have a boat in port!)  Thus, auto traffic out of downtown is limited to due north, due south, and westward.

Also complicating matters is the fact that the Dan Ryan is the only north-south arterial through much of  the city proper.  That doesn’t mean there weren’t any plans for another freeway to be built.  In 1967 there was a proposal made by the federal government to build the “Crosstown Expressway”, which would have been designated as I-494.


The freeway was originally planned to split off the Dan Ryan between 75th and 87th Streets (near the existing I-90 Chicago Skyway), traveling west before turning north at Cicero Avenue and continuing up through the west side of the city before merging with the I-90/I-94 split north of downtown.  One particular advantage of this path would have allowed easier access from the south side of the city to Midway Airport.


An artistic model of the proposed Crosstown Expressway, with Midway Airport on the left.  In this concept the freeway lanes were split in order to minimize displacement of people and the tearing down of buildings.




A view of Cicero Avenue at Belmont, part of a stretch where the Crosstown would have been built.


A political tussle ensued between then-Mayor Richard Daly and the governor of Illnois, Dan Walker, with Daly being a strong advocate for the Crosstown with Walker staunchly opposed.  Plans for the Crosstown were finally canceled in 1979, with the designated funds going for other transportation purposes, though there have been minor rumblings in the years since about reviving the highway.

One particular note of interest in regards to the proposed Crosstown is that the route would have taken it through the Garfield and Humboldt Park neighborhoods of Chicago as well as the nearby suburb of Oak Park — places where the famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright had designed and built many residential houses and other buildings, an idea that wasn’t lost on the residents who opposed construction of the highway.  The Crosstown Expressway serves as another prime example in the United States of the continuing fight between developers  and preservationists.


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Moses’s Parting(s) of Manhattan: The Midtown and Lower Manhattan Expressways

Bringing up the interstate highway system of New York City is nigh near impossible without mentioning the name “Robert Moses”.  Lauded by admirers as an architectural visionary and derided by critics as an egomaniac who was intent on wrecking neighborhoods, one cannot argue that Moses left his mark in big ways in the Big Apple, and would have left an even bigger mark were it not for the determined efforts of his opponents.

Moses, who was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1888, eventually moved to NYC after graduating from college. Gradually he rose in power and stature in the city, despite never being elected to public office.  He was instrumental in massive infrastructure projects during the New Deal of the 1930s, including what would become the city’s sprawling bridge and freeway system.



Moses, who took a remarkably unsentimental view of the past while constantly focused on the future, once remarked: “You can draw any kind of picture you want on a clean slate and indulge your every whim in the wilderness in laying out a New Delhi, Canberra, or Brasilia, but when you operate in an overbuilt metropolis, you have to hack your way with a meat ax.”  And hack away he did, or at least tried to.  One of his projects that earned him a great deal of notoriety was the planned Lower Manhattan expressway.

The extremely talented Andrew Lynch has made some wonderful adaptations from Google Maps on his website of what the unbuilt Lower Manhattan freeway would have looked like:



Essentially the Lower Manhattan would have formed a three-way connection (meeting up with an extended Interstate 478 to the immediate west of Sara D. Roosevelt park) between the Holland Tunnel, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Williamsburg Bridge, slicing through the Lower East Side and potentially leaving a good portion of Broome and Delancey Streets in its shadow. provides the artist’s rendering for the highway:


If this wasn’t daring enough, Moses also had plans for another freeway to cross the Midtown district:



The goal of the Mid-Manhattan expressway was to link the Lincoln Tunnel to New Jersey with the Queens-Midtown Tunnel to the eastern boroughs.  Coming from the west, the highway was to travel parallel with West 39th Street, turn south between 9th and 10th avenues, continue east between 29th and 30th, and then turn north again before reaching the tunnel to Queens.

An artist’s rendering model of the mid-Manhattan.  Note the Empire State Building on the right and the proposed Madison Square Garden in the background:

mid-manhatten model

Needless to say, there were many buildings and other historical markers standing in the way of these projects.  Speaking on Moses’s plans for Lower Manattan,  Anthony Paletta, in writing for the Guardian:

The Lower Manhattan Expressway was an effort to tie up the loose ends of local roadways by extending Interstate 78 – all 10 lanes of it – from the Holland Tunnel to the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges. The obstacle was the streetscape of SoHo and Little Italy, and the great variety of uses within that the city found dispensable.

“The grand total for proposed demolition was 416 buildings that housed 2,200 families, 365 retail stores, and 480 other commercial establishments,” wrote Anthony Flint in Wrestling with Moses.

Moses eventually met his match in prominent neighborhood activist Jane Jacobs, and the two freeways that would have rolled through Manhattan were eventually removed from the city’s highway planning.  It would have been interesting, however, to see how the character of Manhattan might have been changed if Robert Moses had had his way.


First post!

“Well the highways they take longer, and it don’t always pay to wander….” – Joe Purdy, “Highways”road-asphalt-space-sky-56832


Roads have always played a prominent role in the life, history, and formation of the United States.  From the National Road to the Lincoln Highway to U.S. Route 66 to the Interstate Highway System, our highways have been able to link disparate parts of our large nation together.


Yet what about the roads and highways that never were, or might have been?  There are many stories of many thoroughfares that were never built.  Politics, historical preservation, environmental concerns, and good old-fashioned NIMBYism all played a huge part in telling the story of which highways in our nation got constructed, and which didn’t.  Join me on a journey as we learn and explore an off-the-path history of America’s canceled highways!