I am recommending the application of the term “Barack Obama Expressway” as an identifier marking the thirteen miles of Interstate 57 from the Interstate 80 junction to the highway’s Chicago terminus as the Dan Ryan / Bishop Ford interchange. The proposal shall serve as both a direct, intelligent honor to one of Chicago’s leading Sons and serve to finally complete the lone link within Chicago’s radial chain of expressways that lacks a proper nameplate. The merit of said proposal is without question.
Dan Ryan Expressway. Chicago Skyway. The Eisenhower. The Stevenson. The Kennedy.
I-57 remains the sole limited access Chicago route that is referred to by its unwieldy numeral highway marker by locals. Perhaps 57’s lack of a coordinated name plate arrives courtesy of a back room handshake agreement within the corridors of Springfield to reserve this blank slate in preparation for the eventual emergence of another Illinois Hero.
Certainly, the rechristening of Interstates 90-94, 55, and 290 as odes to Obama would prove chaotic. The Kennedy, Dan Ryan, and Chicago Skyway references are as synonymous with Chicago lore as Wrigley Field. Our intent is not to reconfigure this arrangement. Our goal specifies the placement of the missing piece of the puzzle to the Windy City road map.
Interstate 57’s South Side Chicago terminus parallels Barack Obama’s rise from a young, naive outsider to Chicago area politics through his ultimate ascension to the President of the United States. President Obama’s administrative origins trace their humble beginnings to that of a grass roots South Side community organizer. In fact, motorists continuing through the I-57 / 94 interchange merge within a seven-mile stone’s throw from Mr. Obama’s Hyde Park residence via The Dan Ryan or Stony Island Avenue.
The selection of Interstate 80 as the southern boundary of 57’s Obama Expressway is indeed notable. Interstate 80 serves as the de facto barrier separating Chicagoland from Downstate Illinois.
Chicago, characterized by Lake Michigan, towering skyscrapers, high finance, and industrial prowess is a far cry from the gentle rolling hills and agricultural prairie that dominate the majority of the Land of Lincoln’s square mileage. Whereas the Windy City is noted for machine -like liberalism and entrenched Democratic Party bosses – Downstate Illinois remains a bastion of staunch conservatism.
Logically, the shield appearance of ‘Obama Expressway’ terminology would serve as a key ‘Welcome to Chicago’ designation to legions of Interstate Highway travelers.
Of course, the ultimate results of Barack Obama’s presidency have yet to be tabulated. Still, the lawmaker’s rise from State Senator to U.S. Senator, to President-Elect already trumps the career achievements of the nationally unidentifiable Dan Ryan and Bishop Ford.
Several municipalities have begun to pay respect to this iconic figure through the naming of both infrastructure and natural landmarks. For example, Opa-Locka, FL is set to rededicate Perviz as Barack Obama Avenue upon Presidents’ Day. Island nation Antigua and Barbuda has also declared Boggy Peak, the Caribbean sovereign’s highest point as “Mount Obama.”
I am hopeful that said actions may be embraced by all citizenry, irrespective of race or class. Ironically, the Great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a name often associated with decaying, inner-city African American neighborhoods.
South Side Chicago’s King Drive, Prince Georges County, Maryland’s Martin Luther King Highway, and South Houston’s M.L.K. Boulevard shed light upon the aforementioned hypothesis. The theme has been mocked mercilessly, epitomized by the controversial filmBorat, where comedian Sacha Cohen highlights a ‘Martin Luther King’ street sign as the obvious marker of a depressed ghetto.
Reverend King’s sermon and delivery of a firm commitment to racial tolerance seems to have been largely dismissed from the roadways of mid-level Americana. Recently, Chapel Hill, NC’s polarizing debate over NC-86 Airport Road grew into a spectacle of King supporters, consultants, business owners, and leaders fearful of the change. The raging battle was to finally end with a 2004 truce: NC-86 is now Martin Luther King Boulevard, or Old Airport Road.
Although we remain hesitant to compare Barack Obama to Dr. King, we are quite optimistic regarding the readiness of the United States of America to fully embrace this charismatic leader. I am hopeful that my proposal to identify the northern reaches of Interstate 57 as The Barack Obama Expressway function as the proper salute to President Obama, our nation’s forty-forth coalition builder of Change.