The 1988 official Illinois Tollway map showed the proposed North-South Tollway as Interstate 455. The following year, the route was changed to I-355. This information was conveyed to mapmakers in 1988, and as a result, I-455 appeared in a few commercial maps of the same vintage. I-455 was never signed – the North South Tollway was always Interstate 355 once it opened in 1989.
The 12.5 mile extension of Interstate 355 (North-South Tollway) was cleared for construction in 2002, following a series of delays due to environmental and other concerns. Even so, the I-355 extension remained listed by the Sierra Club in 2002 as a route that should not be constructed, so opposition to this road remained high.
Groundbreaking for the project was in November 2004. The tollway was designed with three lanes in each direction with interchanges at Interstate 80, U.S. 6, 159th Street, 143rd Street, 127th Street and I-55 at the north end.2,5 A “walk on the freeway” event was held on November 11, 2007 (Veterans Day), a day prior to the formal opening to traffic.1,4
South to Interstate 57 and Illiana Expressway
A further extension of I-355 south to Interstate 57 was proposed. Such an extension could potentially connect to the long-proposed Illiana Expressway, which would travel east through Will County to Interstate 65 in Indiana. Neither the extension to I-57 nor the link to the Illiana Expressway is currently projected for construction in the near term, but both routes have been proposed if not studied to some extent. If an airport is constructed in Peotone as was once proposed, then an extension of I-355 would be even more likely. Another consideration would be related to whether the Illiana Expressway is built to relieve the burdened Borman Expressway and Kingery Expressway corridor (I-80/94/294).
Brad Smetanko shed some light on the proposed southerly extension of Interstate 355 in an email dated November 28, 2002:
[According to the Will County] 2020 Transportation Plan, the county seems to feel that its residents are ardent supporters of the [recent extension of Interstate 355 south to Interstate 80]. Will County was one of the fastest growing in the state between 1990 and 2000, and the Census Bureau estimated almost 6% growth (to over half a million people) in just the first fifteen months following Census 2000.
Also, as for a further extension, Will County at least seems to favor a western and southern bypass of New Lenox. That would mean travelers on future southbound Interstate 355 would have to merge onto westbound Interstate 80 for about a mile before continuing south [toward Interstate 57]. You can see their corridor, which extends across Interstate 57 to the Indiana border, at the above Transportation Plan link (no longer online). From firsthand experience trying to navigate the county even two years ago at rush hour, all of the above extensions would be put to good use.
These future plans depend heavily on the South Suburban Airport planned for Peotone. With Mayor Richard Daley in Chicago pushing for O’Hare Airport expansion, things are really up in the air, pun intended. While the O’Hare project isn’t a done deal, some land acquisition has started, but the same is true of the Peotone Airport. Governor Ryan was a big supporter of the Peotone project (he hailed from Kankakee County, immediately to the south of Peotone), but I think Governor-elect Blagojevich will be more inclined to go along with Mayor Daley.
In short, don’t look for any earth-movers in the next five years [not until well after 2007], either on Interstate 355 south of Interstate 80 nor on a South Suburban Airport. But plans are in the works, and if the growth continues, something will have to be done eventually. Plus, airport construction would make the highway a virtual certainty, at least in some form.
On September 30, 2004, the board of trustees for the Illinois Tollway approved a $5.3 billion construction plan, which included multiple tollway improvements along with the Interstate 355 extension southeast to Interstate 80. This plan was previously detailed on the official Illinois Tollway web page, under the Fiscal Year 2005 Budget approval on October 28, 2004. The following is a synopsis of some of what is included in the spending plan (thanks to Kevin Wheeler):
- Widening, resurfacing and/or reconstruction of 90+% of the tollway system.
- Converting the current toll system to “open road tolling” where I-PASS users would be able to pass through all toll plazas at posted highway speed, while cash paying customers are routed off the road. Tolls were doubled to $0.80 for cash paying customers and were raised to $3-$4 for trucks. I-PASS users a guaranteed a rate freeze for 10 years.
- Construction of the “next” leg of I-355 from the exchange with I-55 in Bolingbrook, to Interstate 80 near New Lenox. Ultimately plans call for I-355 to extend to Interstate 57 near Peotone, where it would connect to another road to be built by the Indiana Department of Transportation (the “Illiana Expressway”). Construction of Interstate 355 was expected to began around Thanksgiving 2004, and was completed in November 2007.
Illinois Route 53 Extension – North to Interstate 94
Studies involving the extension of IL 53 north to near Grayslake commenced in 2011, and by 2016, the Illinois Tollway agency allocated $4 million to planning consultants. Design of the route incorporates environmentally sensitive design with features to offset damages from road salt, noise and lighting to wetlands and parkland along the route. Costs for the extension were estimated between $2.3 and $2.65 billion.7
Delays and debate as to whether the extension should be built continued through 2016. The Illinois Tollway agency intended to move forward with a $40 million to $50 million feasibility study to extend IL 53 north to IL 120, despite the withdraw of support by Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor. The route was previously envisioned as a four-lane parkway with a 45 mile per hour speed limit. However more formal design work, or a no build alternative, would follow an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).7