Up the Middle (7-28-1955)

The Mayor of Chicago stood in the dusty median of the unfinished expressway in his shirt sleeves.  He raised the sledge over his head, then pounded the spike into the tie near the rail.  The two dozen onlookers cheered.

The mayor was Richard J. Daley, the place was the Congress (Eisenhower) Expressway at Pulaski.  Though it looked like the old Golden Spike photos of the transcontinental railroad, this ceremony marked a beginning, not an end.  The CTA was going to run trains up the middle of the expressway.

1955--The First Spike

1955–The First Spike

Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago had called for a major east-west highway along the line of Congress Parkway.  That had evolved into an expressway.  Then someone came up with the idea of tearing down the Garfield Park ‘L’ line, and rerouting the trains over the highway’s median.

Critics thought this would be a waste of precious city land.  Why leave that empty space in the middle of an expressway, for trains that might never run?  Put in a couple more lanes for auto traffic instead!

The expressway line was supposed to link up with the Logan Square ‘L’ via the new Milwaukee-Dearborn subway.  But when the subway opened in 1951, the tunnel stopped abruptly at La Salle and Congress.  Chicago now had its own Subway to Nowhere.

And it seemed that trains might always end there.  The Congress ‘L’ project was running into trouble.  Crews tunneling under the Post Office found 16 support caissons in their path.  The caissons had to be reinforced, and that added 40% more to the project’s cost.

1979--Up the Middle

1979–Up the Middle

Daley became mayor in May 1955.  He was determined to push the line through.  That’s why he was out pounding a spike in 90-degree weather.  At the ceremony, he called the project “a new era in highway construction and mass rapid transit.”

The mayor was right.  When the Congress ‘L’ opened in 1958, it was universally hailed as a major innovation.  Now cities routinely combine express highways with transit lines.



1 Response to “Up the Middle (7-28-1955)”

  1. 1 James F. O'Neil July 28, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    We lived at 1623 W. Van Buren. We had to move because of the construction. I remember the houses and buildings being torn down around us; then we moved to the South Side.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: