Kennedy Expressway

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Kennedy Expressway

John F. Kennedy Expressway
Route information
Maintained by IDOT
Length17.80 mi[1] (28.65 km)
Major junctions
West end O'Hare International Airport in Chicago
Major intersections US 12 / US 45 in Chicago

I-294 Toll in Rosemont

I-90 Toll / I-190 in Chicago
IL 171 in Chicago
IL 43 in Chicago
I-94 in Chicago
IL 19 in Chicago
IL 64 in Chicago
East end
I-90 / I-94 / I-290 / IL 110 (CKC) in Chicago
CountryUnited States
Highway system

The John F. Kennedy Expressway is a nearly 18-mile-long (29 km) freeway in Chicago, Illinois, United States. Portions of the freeway carry I-190, I-90 and I-94. The freeway runs in a southeast–northwest direction between the central city neighborhood of the West Loop and O'Hare International Airport. The highway was named in commemoration of 35th US President John F. Kennedy. It conforms to the Chicago-area term of using the word expressway for an Interstate Highway without tolls. The Kennedy's official endpoints are the Jane Byrne Interchange with Interstate 290 (Eisenhower Expressway/Ida B. Wells Drive) and the Dan Ryan Expressway (also I-90/94) at the east end, and the O'Hare Airport terminals at the west end. I-190 runs from the western terminus at O'Hare Airport for 3.07 miles (4.94 km), where it meets I-90 and runs a further 6.29 miles (10.12 km), before joining with I-94 for the final 8.44 miles (13.58 km).[1]

Traveling eastbound from O'Hare, the Kennedy interchanges with the eastern terminus of the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90) and with the Tri-State Tollway (I-294) at a complex junction just west of Illinois Route 171 (IL 171, Cumberland Avenue). The Kennedy later merges with the southern end of the Edens Expressway (I-94) at Montrose Avenue; the Kennedy (at this point both I-90 and I-94) then turns south to its junction with the Dan Ryan and Eisenhower Expressways and Ida B. Wells Drive at the Jane Byrne Interchange in downtown Chicago.

With up to 327,000 vehicles traveling on the Kennedy daily, the Kennedy and its South Side extension, the Dan Ryan, are the busiest roads in the Midwest.[1]


An eastbound view of the Kennedy Expressway heading toward downtown Chicago

The Kennedy was originally constructed along the route of Avondale Avenue, an existing diagonal street, and the C&NW Northwest Line corridor, in the late 1950s and completed on November 5, 1960. Originally named the Northwest Expressway for its general direction of travel, the Chicago City Council voted unanimously on November 29, 1963—one week after the assassination of President Kennedy—to rename the highway the John F. Kennedy Expressway.[2] Until 1978, the Kennedy Expressway was marked as I-94 and Illinois Route 194 (IL 194), I-90 and I-190 replaced IL 194 and thus the Eisenhower Expressway was renamed from I-90 to I-290.

The express portion of the freeway was last reconstructed from 1992 through 1994,[3] when the existing express lanes, which previously were reversed by hand, were modernized. In addition, all aspects of the express lanes system were computerized, so that the process could be controlled at both ends from a central location. At least once a day, however, IDOT crews still examine the express lanes for debris while the lanes are closed.

Southeastward view of the Kennedy Expressway from the Montrose Blue Line Station, with the reversible express lanes to the right of the tracks

In 2005, the Washington Street bridge over the expressway was reconstructed, and the entrance ramps to both directions of the Kennedy were partially removed. The same was done in 2006 for the Monroe Street bridge. This left a disconnected portion of each ramp remaining on the expressway, to be removed and the existing "suicide ramps" lengths extended when funding became available. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided the necessary funding for the construction between Hubbard Street and the Circle Interchange, commencing in summer 2009. The westbound (facing north) ramps at Adams Street and Madison Street, along with the eastbound (facing south) ramps at Randolph Street and Madison Street, were lengthened by removing what remained of abandoned ramps and lengthening the entrance ramps significantly.[4] The only remaining short, limited-sight, left-side suicide ramp entrance is from Lake Street to the eastbound expressway (heading south). As part of the project, eastbound (heading south) traffic patterns were adjusted. The two right-most lanes were made "exit only" for Chicago Loop, Ida B. Wells Drive, and Eisenhower Expressway exits, the Adams Street and Jackson Boulevard exits were combined, certain center median walls reconstructed, lanes restriped to remove the merging of the leftmost lanes, and appropriate signage changes. For example, the changes increased the taper for the Randolph Street entrance headed eastbound from 160 to 583 feet (49 to 178 m),[5] an increase of over 3.6 time. In the westbound direction (headed north), the exit ramp to Monroe Street was permanently removed.

In 2015, the American Highway Users Alliance named the 12 miles (19 km) of the Kennedy between the Circle Interchange and Edens junction the worst traffic bottleneck in the country.[6]


The Blue Line operates in the median of the Kennedy Expressway for about 10 miles (16 km) from O'Hare International Airport to just south of Addison Street. The first section, an extension from Logan Square to Jefferson Park, opened in 1970. The second section opened between Jefferson Park and River Road (now Rosemont) in February 1983. The third and final section between River Road and O'Hare was opened in September 1984.[7]

Sign over the Kennedy Expressway, at the north entrance to Hubbard's Cave, encouraging commuters to use Metra trains, such as the one seen here passing over the highway, to avoid the common congestion

The second distinct features of the Kennedy Expressway are its reversible express lanes where I-94 merges into I-90. The reversible lanes lie in the median of the highway from the Kennedy Expressway/Edens Expressway junction until just north of the Loop (at Ohio Street), a distance of about eight miles (13 km). These reversible lanes, situated between the inbound lanes and the Blue Line tracks, allow two lanes of traffic to flow towards or away from the city, depending on the time of the day. The lanes are controlled by computers and verified by humans at a separate control center. Steel mesh barriers and breakaway gates prevent traffic from entering oncoming lanes. On January 25, 2014, a drunk driver broke through the safety gates and drove in the express lanes in the wrong direction, but was stopped by a snow plow; no injuries were reported.[8] This was the first wrong-way accident involving the express lanes.

A third distinct feature is Hubbard's Cave, also called the Hubbard Street Tunnel, which passes under several streets and the Metra's Union Pacific West, North Central Service, Milwaukee District North, and Milwaukee District West lines (former Chicago & Northwestern and Milwaukee Road commuter lines respectively). It is named for Hubbard Street, one of the streets it passes underneath. Hubbard's Cave is a landmark frequently heard in traffic reports on radio and TV.

Magikist Lips sign formerly located on the Kennedy Expressway at Montrose Avenue in Chicago, torn down in 2004

The final distinct features are the nine exits in two miles (3.2 km) between mile markers 50 and 51, and the southbound exit to I-290 and Ida B. Wells Drive is marked as exits 51H and 51I. While the density of interchanges is quite dangerous, the hazard is partially offset by the fact that exits are 500 feet (150 m) apart on the right hand side, while entrances to the highway were 500 feet (150 m) apart, but on the left side. Known as the "suicide ramps", the entrance ramps on the left had little to no acceleration zone, and traffic on the ramps could not see mainline traffic until the last 500 feet (150 m) of the ramp. The 2009–10 reconstruction between Hubbard Street and the Circle Interchange improved safety by increasing the lengths of most entrance ramps and reduced bottlenecks by better utilizing the existing space.

The Kennedy Expressway was the location of a large Magikist lips flashing sign which was a Chicago pop culture icon for many years. Located at the southeast corner where Montrose Avenue abutted the expressway, the sign was torn down in 2004.

Exit list

The entire route is in Cook County.

Chicago0.000.00 O'Hare International AirportWestern terminus of I-190
0.991.59Bessie Coleman Drive – Terminal 5, Rental Car Return
1.272.042 US 12 / US 45 (Mannheim Road)Signed as exits 2A (north) and 2B (south);
eastbound exit 2B shares a ramp with Bessie Coleman Drive

I-294 Toll south (Tri-State Tollway)

I-294 Toll north (Tri-State Tollway) to I-90 Toll west (Jane Addams Memorial Tollway) – Milwaukee, Rockford
Eastbound exit and westbound entrance
2.243.601River RoadSigned as exits 1A (north) and 1B (south) eastbound

I-90 Toll west (Jane Addams Memorial Tollway) to I-294 Toll north (Tri-State Tollway) – Rockford, Milwaukee

I-190 ends
Eastern terminus of I-190; westbound exit and eastbound entrance
79.60128.1079 IL 171 (Cumberland Avenue)Signed as exits 79A (south) and 79B (north)
80.30129.2380Canfield RoadWestbound exit and eastbound entrance
81.20130.6881A IL 43 (Harlem Avenue)
81.20130.6881BSayre Avenue (7000 West)Westbound exit and eastbound entrance
82.20132.2982ANagle Avenue (6432 West)No westbound exit
82.40132.6182BBryn Mawr Avenue (5600 North)Westbound exit only
82.80133.2582CAustin Avenue (6000 West)Eastbound exit only
83.30134.0683AFoster Avenue (5200 North)No eastbound exit
83.50134.3883BCentral Avenue (5600 West)Westbound exit and eastbound entrance
84.20135.5184Lawrence Avenue (4800 North)To I-94 west (Edens Expressway)
I-94 west (Edens Expressway) – Milwaukee
"The Junction"; western terminus of concurrency with I-94; westbound exit and eastbound entrance; exit number follows I-94
43.6070.1743CMontrose Avenue (4400 North)Westbound exit and eastbound entrance
43.9070.6543DKostner Avenue (4400 West)Westbound exit only
44.3071.2944A IL 19 (Irving Park Road (4000 North)) / Keeler AvenueNo westbound exit
44.5071.6244B IL 19 (Irving Park Road (4000 North)) / Pulaski Road (4000 West)Westbound exit and eastbound entrance
45.1072.5845AAddison Street (3600 North)
45.5073.2345BKimball Avenue (3400 West)
45.8073.7145CBelmont Avenue (3200 North)Westbound exit and eastbound entrance
46.1074.19Sacramento Avenue (3000 West)Eastbound entrance only
46.3074.5146ACalifornia Avenue (2800 West)Eastbound exit and westbound entrance
46.5074.8346BDiversey Avenue (2800 North)Westbound exit only and eastbound entrance
47AWestern Avenue (2400 West) / Fullerton Avenue (2400 North)No eastbound access to Western Avenue
47.6076.6047BDamen Avenue (2000 West)Westbound exit and eastbound entrance
48.1577.4948AArmitage Avenue (2000 North)
48.7078.3848B IL 64 (North Avenue) (1600 North)
49.4079.5049ADivision Street (1200 North)
49BAugusta Boulevard / Milwaukee Avenue (1000 North)Westbound exit and eastbound entrance
50.1080.6350AOgden Avenue (1200 West)Eastbound exit and westbound entrance
50.4081.1150BOhio Street east (600 North)Eastern terminus of express lanes
51.0082.0851ALake Street (200 North)Westbound exit and eastbound entrance
51.1082.2451BRandolph Street west (150 North)
51.2082.4051CWashington Boulevard east (100 North)No entrance ramps
51.3082.5651DMadison Street (0 North/South)
51.4082.7251EMonroe Street (100 South)Eastbound exit only
51.5082.8851FAdams Street west (200 South)Eastbound exit only; shared ramp with exit 51G
51.6083.0451GJackson Boulevard east (300 South)Eastbound exit and westbound entrance;
shared exit ramp with exit 51F

I-290 west (Eisenhower Expressway) / IL 110 (CKC) west – Aurora
Eastbound exit and westbound entrance
51.8083.3651IIda B. Wells Drive east – Chicago Loop (500 South)Eastbound exit and westbound entrance

I-90 east / I-94 east (Dan Ryan Expressway) – Indiana
I-90 and I-94 continue east
1.000 mi = 1.609 km; 1.000 km = 0.621 mi

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Illinois Technology Transfer Center (2006). "T2 GIS Data". Illinois Department of Transportation. Archived from the original on August 10, 2007. Retrieved November 8, 2007.
  2. ^ "Northwest Expressway Is Renamed for Kennedy". Chicago Tribune. November 30, 1963. Archived from the original on June 4, 2011. Retrieved March 11, 2010.
  3. ^ Hilkevitch, John (March 26, 2006). "Buckle Up, It Looks like a Long Ride". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved March 26, 2006.[permanent dead link]
  4. ^ Hilkevitch, Jon (July 13, 2009). "Kennedy Expressway Left-Lane 'Suicide' Ramps Makeover Begins Monday". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 21, 2013.
  5. ^ Hilkevitch, Jon (December 21, 2009). "Getting Around: Kennedy Expressway's New Ramps Get a Test-Drive". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 21, 2013.
  6. ^ Anderson, Lon; Gillen, Cathy; Singh, Daisy (2015). "Unclogging America's Arteries: Prescriptions for Healthier Highways" (Press release). American Highway Users Alliance. Retrieved November 24, 2015.
  7. ^ "Blue Line: O'Hare Branch". Chicago "L".org. Retrieved 10 July 2018.
  8. ^ "IDOT Snowplow Stops Wrong-Way Driver in Kennedy Expressway Express Lanes". Chicago Sun Times. Sun-Times Media Wire. January 25, 2014.

External links