Northbound Interstate 55 (and U.S. 61-64-70-79) crosses the Mississippi River on this cantilever truss bridge (built in 1949 and thus predates the Interstate). The bridge does not meet modern Interstate standards due to its lack of shoulders. However, this bridge is the only Interstate Highway bridge in Tennessee to be on the National Register of Historic Places.2 Interstate 55 crosses the Mississippi River again on another bridge that connects St. Louis, Missouri, with East St. Louis, Illinois. Photo taken by Steve Hanudel (08/19/05).
For much of its length, Interstate 55 parallels the Mississippi River, from the town of La Place (located west of New Orleans in the Delta region) north to the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers in St. Louis. At St. Louis, Interstate 55 turns northeast to end in the Windy City of Chicago.
Parallel U.S. Routes
Interstate 55 parallels U.S. 51 from New Orleans north to Memphis, then follows U.S. 61 from Memphis north to St. Louis. Between Memphis and St. Louis, U.S. 51 remains east of the Mississippi River, while Interstate 55 stays west of the river. At St. Louis, Interstate 55 replaced U.S. 66 all the way to Chicago. U.S. 51 and Interstate 55 meet again at Bloomington-Normal, and U.S. 51 north of that city has been largely subsumed by Interstate 39.
The northern terminus of Interstate 55 is in downtown Chicago along the shore of Lake Michigan at Lake Shore Drive (U.S. 41) near the sprawling McCormick Place, the city's convention center. At the southern terminus, Interstate 55 directs traffic onto Interstate 10 on the western fringes of Lake Ponchartrain to serve the New Orleans metropolitan area. U.S. 51, which parallels Interstate 55 through Mississippi and Louisiana, terminates a few miles away at its intersection with U.S. 61. The section of Interstate 55 between Ponchatoula, Louisiana, and the southern terminus at Interstate 10 near La Place is elevated.
Interstate 55 serves the cities of Jackson, Memphis, St. Louis, and Springfield via a somewhat indirect alignment. It is faster to take Interstate 57 between Sikeston, Missouri, and Chicago, thus avoiding the St. Louis Metropolitan Area. Between St. Louis and Chicago, Interstate 55 follows the old alignment of the eastern leg of U.S. 66. Some stretches of Old U.S. 66 are marked as an historical route, and city stretches are often designated as business loops.
Shared Alignment with Interstate 69
As of May 6, 2008, Interstate 55 shares pavement with Interstate 69 between the Interstate 69 interchange in Nesbit, Mississippi, and the Interstate 240 interchange in Memphis, Tennessee. From the Memphis interchange, Interstate 69 continues north on Interstate 240 and Interstate 40 to the Tennessee 300 interchange.
The first section of Interstate 55 approved for construction in Mississippi was a 27-mile segment through Hernando, Coldwater, and Senatobia. The contract was advertised in late 1956, and groundbreaking for construction followed in July 1957 in Coldwater.3
Interstate 55 was completed between Exit 49 (U.S. 61), north of New Madrid, Missouri, to U.S. 60 at Sikeston, Missouri on September 1, 1960. An eight mile stretch of freeway opened that day, tieing in with a prexisting seven mile stretch.4 Further north in St. Louis, Interstate 55 was completed between the Jefferson County line and downtown by 1967.5
Interstate 55 in Chicago, Illinois, follows the Stevenson Expressway. This freeway, which was originally known as the Southwest Expressway, extended from the Cook-DuPage County Line northeast to Interstate 90-94/Dan Ryan Expressway. The expressway opened to traffic on September 1, 1964. Exactly one year later, the Southwest Expressway was renamed the Adlai E. Stevenson Expressway on September 1, 1965, in memory of the former Illinois state governor. The short extension from Interstate 90-94/Dan Ryan Expressway east to U.S. 41/Lake Shore Drive was completed in 1966, thus completing Interstate 55 in Chicago.6,7
At the beginning of the longest continuous viaduct in the world is this mileage sign for the final 23 miles of Interstate 55. Business U.S. 51 merges in at this point from Ponchatoula, as U.S. 51 overlaps with Interstate 55 from Exit 26 and Hammond southward to Exit 1. All signs profiled in 2003 were replaced later that year. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (05/13/03).
Interstate 55/U.S. 51 southbound as they cross over Pass Manchac. This waterway serves the Port of Manchac as it connects Lake Maurepas with Lake Pontchartrain. The mileage sign followed the Manchac interchange (Exit 15) with Old U.S. 51. Visible to the left are the original alignments of U.S. 51 as they travel southward to Rudduck (the final mainline interchange of Interstate 55). Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (05/13/03).
Six miles separate Rudduck from the final mainline interchange of Interstate 55. Forthcoming Exit 1 represents the southbound departure of U.S. 51 to Laplace. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (05/13/03).
Continuing toward Exit 1/U.S. 51 south on Interstate 55 south. Traffic destined for Interstate 10 westbound must use this interchange and U.S. 51 south as there is no direct connection from the freeway mainline. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (05/13/03).
Entering the half-diamond interchange with U.S. 51 south and Old U.S. 51 north along Interstate 55 south. Travelers continuing on the freeway default onto Interstate 10 east within a mile. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (05/13/03).
Merging onto Interstate 10 eastbound from Interstate 55 south. An Interstate 10 Louisiana reassurance shield was posted at the merge. I-10 continues ten miles along elevated highway to Kenner. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (05/13/03).
Perspective from Interstate 10 west
This single post guide sign is the first indication to westbound Interstate 10 travelers of the pending split with Interstate 55 north (Exit 210). Interstate 55 commences as along a viaduct, continuing a stretch of elevated highway another 23 miles from I-10 to Pontchatoula. Photo taken by Steve Hanudel (08/15/05).
Interstate 10 westbound at the southern terminus of Interstate 55. This interchange is entirely elevated over wetlands. Old U.S. 51 parallels Interstate 55 from Exit 1 (southbound only) until Ponchatoula. U.S. 51 splits from Interstate 55 at the same interchange for its final three miles to Laplace and U.S. 61. Photo taken by Steve Hanudel (08/15/05).
The split of Interstate 55 north / Exit 210 from Interstate 10 westbound. Two lanes are allocated for the beginning Interstate, as it is an important link between metro New Orleans and Ponchatoula. Photo taken by Steve Hanudel (08/15/05).
Next Three Interstate Junctions for Interstate 10 west
Since there is no direct access from Interstate 10 east onto Interstate 55 north, motorists must use U.S. 51 north from Laplace (Exit 209) to its on-ramp to I-55 to make the connection. Photo taken 10/22/03.
A diamond interchange facilitates the movements between Interstate 10 and U.S. 51 at Laplace. U.S. 51 begins three miles to the south from U.S. 61 (Airline Highway) and proceeds northeast to merge onto Interstate 55. Interstate 55 & U.S. 51 share pavement for 25 miles to Hammond. Photo taken 10/22/03.
Taking the Exit 209 off-ramp from Interstate 10 east and turning onto U.S. 51 north, drivers pass under the I-10 mainline and proceed a short distance north to the Interstate 55 on-ramp. Photo taken 06/01.
U.S. 51 completes the movement from Interstate 10 east to Interstate 55 north for travelers bound for Ponchatoula and Hammond. Old U.S. 51 continues parallel to the elevated I-55 through Ruddock and Manchac. Photo taken 06/01.
Next Three Interstate Junctions for Interstate 10 east
The first shield of Interstate 55 north resides just beyond the Exit 210 split from Interstate 10 west. Photo taken 11/20/08.
Northern Terminus - U.S. 41/Lake Shore Drive - Chicago, Illinois
Perspective from Interstate 55 north
Northbound Interstate 55/Adlai Stevenson Expressway reaches Exit 290, Damen Avenue/Ashland Avenue. The last Interstate-to-Interstate connection along northbound is Exit 292A-B, Junction Interstate 90-94/Dan Ryan Expressway. Photo taken 09/03/05.
Use northbound Interstate 55 to Lake Shore Drive and McCormick Place. Use Interstate 90-94/Dan Ryan Expressway north (west) to Wisconsin and south (east) to Indiana. Photo taken 09/03/05.
The right lane becomes exit only for westbound (northbound) Interstate 90-94/Dan Ryan Expressway to the Circle Interchange with Interstate 290 and Congress Parkway, then transitions onto the Kennedy Expressway to the North Suburbs and O'Hare International Airport. Photo taken 09/03/05.
Northbound Interstate 55/Stevenson Expressway now has a control destination of Lake Shore Drive. Exit 292A serves Interstate 90-94/Dan Ryan Expressway north (west). Exit 292B connects to Interstate 90-94 south (east) to Gary, Indiana. Photo taken 09/03/05.
Use northbound Interstate 55 to McCormick Place, which is Chicago's convention center. The expressway travels directly toward the convention center, which is situated on the shore of Lake Michigan and partially straddles U.S. 41/Lake Shore Drive. Photo taken 09/03/05.
Northbound Interstate 55/Stevenson Expressway reaches Exit 292B, Junction Interstate 90-94/Dan Ryan Expressway east (south). The two routes split at the Chicago Skyway interchange; use Interstate 94 south to Interstate 57 and the south suburbs. Oddly, Interstate 55 north is traveling nearly due east, and Interstate 90-94 is a north-south freeway. The next exit is Exit 293A, Cermak Road. Photo taken 09/03/05.
Continuing east, northbound Interstate 55 passes under Interstate 90-94/Dan Ryan Expressway as the freeway approaches Exit 293A, Cermak Road. Photo taken 09/03/05.
Northbound Interstate 55 reaches Exit 293A, Cermak Road. The next exit is Exit 293D, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive. The final interchange is Exit 294, Junction U.S. 41/Lake Shore Drive. Photo taken 09/03/05.
The last mainline interchange of Interstate 55 is Exit 293D with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive. Interstate 55 draws to a close in one half mile. Photo taken 09/03/05.
This is the final reassurance shield for north Interstate 55 (after the Cermak Road exit below the Rock Island Railroad overpass). Photo taken 09/03/05.
Another set of overheads provide the distance to Exit 293D, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive and Exit 294, Junction U.S. 41/Lake Shore Drive. Photo taken 09/03/05.
Interstate 55 travels due east as it approaches U.S. 41 near the Lake Michigan shoreline. Pictured here is the Indiana Avenue overpass and overheads for Exit 293D and McCormick Place. Photo taken 09/03/05.
Northbound Interstate 55 reaches its penultimate exit: Exit 293D, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive. The final exit is Exit 294, Junction U.S. 41/Lake Shore Drive. Photo taken 09/03/05.
The second to last sign bridge of Interstate 55 is posted just past the departure of Exit 293D. Traffic defaults onto U.S. 41/Lakeshore Drive northbound ahead. While the US route features at-grade intersections within the vicinity of Interstate 55, Lakeshore Drive upgrades to a freeway to the north of downtown Chicago. Photo taken 09/03/05.
Interstate 55 concludes its northeasterly trajectory and partitions into ramps for U.S. 41/Lakeshore Drive. As noted on the signs, trucks are only allowed to turn southbound on Lake Shore Drive. Not visible from this elevated interchange is McCormick Place, which is Chicago's convention center. It is situated between Lake Shore Drive and Lake Michigan itself. Photo taken 09/03/05.
Two end shields flank the north end. One of them is visible on the left lanes that transition onto northbound U.S. 41; the second one shown here is for traffic turning onto southbound U.S. 41. U.S. 41 holds some significance in Interstate history here. The highway was once proposed as part of an Interstate 494 downtown loop along Lakeshore Drive. The highway never came to fruition as it would have involved serious alteration of the Lake Michigan waterfront. Photo taken 09/03/05.
This is the other end Interstate 55 shield, which is posted on the ramp to northbound U.S. 41. A similar shield is posted on the southbound ramp (see previous photobox). A begin Interstate 55 shield is posted in the opposite direction. The Interstate 55 and U.S. 41 connection provides a direct route into the city of Chicago. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (05/25/03).
Shortly after merging onto northbound U.S. 41/Lake Shore Drive, Interstate 55 traffic passes by McCormick Place. Just ahead is Soldier Field, home of the NFL's Chicago Bears, and the world-renowned Shedd Aquarium. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (05/25/03).
Perspective from U.S. 41 south
The northern end of Interstate 55 is at Junction U.S. 41. This picture is along southbound U.S. 41 (Lake Shore Drive) one mile ahead of the interchange. Photo taken 09/03/05.
After the 18th Street (Waldron Drive) intersection, the next advance sign for the junction with Interstate 55 is placed here. Photo taken 09/03/05.
These Interstate 90 and Interstate 94 trailblazers are posted on southbound U.S. 41/Lake Shore Drive. The McCormick Place Convention Center is located after this interchange. The transition ramp will lead from U.S. 41 southbound to the southbound beginning of Interstate 55 (Adlai E. Stevenson Expressway). Photo taken 09/03/05.
Interstate 55 continues west from this exit, then turns southwest after passing Interstate 90/Interstate 94 (Dan Ryan Expressway, which is among the busiest freeways in the world). The Stevenson Expressway generally parallels old U.S. 66 en route toward Joliet. The first mainline interchange of Interstate 55 southbound is with State Street. Just past that ramp is the junction with the Dan Ryan Expressway. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (05/25/03).
Perspective from Interstate 55 south
Begin Interstate 55 signage at the top of the flyover ramp that connects Interstate 55/Stevenson Expressway with U.S. 41/Lake Shore Drive. Illinois does a good job of signing the beginnings and ends of its routes, with signage such as this to mark the beginning of the highway on its journey from the Windy City south to the lands of Delta Blues and Zydeco music. Photo taken 09/03/05.
The State Street interchange (Exit 293C) is the first exit on southbound Interstate 55, followed by the junction with Interstate 90-94 (Dan Ryan Expressway). Photo taken 09/03/05.
As southbound Interstate 55/Stevenson Expressway approaches Exit 293C, State Street, construction is underway on the north side of the freeway. Photo taken 09/03/05.
Southbound Interstate 55/Stevenson Expressway reaches Exit 293C, State Street. The next interchange is the junction with Interstate 90-94/Dan Ryan Expressway. The first ramp (Exit 293B) connects to Interstate 90-94 west (north) to Wisconsin, while the second ramp (Exit 293A) connects to Interstate 90-94 east (south) to Indiana. Photo taken 09/03/05.
To the south, Interstate 90-94 follow the Dan Ryan Expressway for several miles, then divide at the Chicago Skyway. Interstate 90 follows the Skyway, which connects directly to the Indiana Toll Road en route to South Bend and Toledo. Interstate 94, meanwhile, follows the Dan Ryan Expressway to Interstate 57, which is the longest Interstate Highway in Illinois. Interstate 57 serves Kankakee, Champaign-Urbana, Mattoon, Effingham, Mt. Vernon, and Marion before it departs the state near Cairo. It is part of a more direct route to Memphis and New Orleans than Interstate 55 since it avoids the St. Louis metropolitan area. Photo taken 09/03/05.
To the north, Interstate 90-94 briefly follow the Dan Ryan Expressway before it turns into the John F. Kennedy Expressway. The two routes split at the Edens Expressway junction. Interstate 90 follows the Kennedy Expressway northwest toward O'Hare International Airport, then transitions onto the Northwest Tollway toward Rockford and Beloit. Interstate 94 follows the Edens Expressway north to the Tri-State Tollway, and it continues north along with U.S. 41 toward Milwaukee. Southbound Interstate 55/Stevenson Expressway, meanwhile, continues southwest parallel to the old U.S. 66 route toward Joliet, Bloomington-Normal, Lincoln, Springfield, and St. Louis. Photo taken 09/03/05.
Perspective from U.S. 41 north
New overhead on U.S. 41 northbound announcing the upcoming junction of Interstate 55 in one mile. The stretch of Lake Shore Drive south of Interstate 55 has been under reconstruction for quite a while (according to Brian Dowd), and it is a mess there. But, new signage has been erected in consequence.1 Photo taken by Dan Garnell (08/28/03).
With the world-famous Sears Tower looming in the background, U.S. 41/Lake Shore Drive northbound approaches the junction with southbound Interstate 55/Adlai E. Stevenson Expressway. The southbound control city is St. Louis, although Interstate 55 connects to Joliet and several downstate cities, such as Bloomington-Normal, Lincoln, and Springfield. Photo taken by Nick Poulos (04/02).
Northbound U.S. 41/Lake Shore Drive reaches the offramp to southbound Interstate 55/Lake Shore Drive. The skyline of the Windy City is visible from the interchange. Photo taken 09/03/05.
Ascending upon the southbound Interstate 55 ramp from U.S. 41 northbound. The McCormick Place Convention Center sprawls beyond the curved flyover. Interstate 55 meets the Interstate 90/94 overlap in less than two miles. Compare the upgraded ramp after reconstruction between 2002 and 2005. Photos taken by Nick Poulos (04/02) and on 09/03/05.
Garnell, Dan, email: "I-290 (Chicago) E End and I-55 N End." September 18, 2003.
Tennessee Interstate System at 50: Facts and Trivia http://www.tninterstate50.com/Tnfacts.htm.
"New Highway Stretch Open." The Southeast Missourian, September 2, 1960.
Vintage St. Louis, online posting. Facebook.com. July 14, 2013.
Chicago Timeline: 1964 Southwest Expressway Opened; September 1, 1965--Renamed Adlai E. Stevenson Expressway, Chicago Public Library, updated August 1997 http://www.chipublib.org/004chicago/timeline/stevensonx.html.