Decoding the Traffic Report

Flickr Credit: Kim Scarborough
So, you commute. We understand, we’ve done it. Commuting can be a headache, ok, it can be a downright nightmare. But it helps to know the best routes, the routes to avoid, and to understand the traffic report. So turn on your preferred local radio station at rush hour and follow along. You’ll never wait in traffic again. Ok, that’s completely untrue. But we do want to help.

So first, let’s review our basic Chicago highways and their official names:

  • Kennedy Expressway (I-90/I-94, north of the city): runs northwest from the city between O’Hare International Airport and downtown Chicago. Named after President John F. Kennedy.
  • Dan Ryan Expressway (I-90/94, south of the city): runs south from downtown until it splits into the Bishop Ford (I-94) and the Chicago Skyway (I-90). Named after Daniel B. Ryan, President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners.
  • Edens Expressway (I-94, north of the City): runs north from the Kennedy Junction to the north suburbs. Named for William Edens, head of the Illinois Highway Improvement Association. Fun Fact: Edens never owned or drove a car!
  • Bishop Ford Highway (I-94, south of the City): starts on the south side where the Dan Ryan ends; runs into Indiana. Named for Bishop Louis Henry Ford, who worked at a nearby church.
  • Chicago Skyway (I-90): starts on the south side where the Dan Ryan ends; runs into the Indiana Toll Bridge.
  • Stevenson Expressway (I-55): runs south from the city toward St. Louis, Missouri. Access to Midway International Airport. Named after Illinois governor and presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson.
  • Eisenhower Expressway (Highway 290): runs from downtown to the western suburbs. Named after President Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • Lake Shore Drive (U.S. Highway 41): runs along the lakefront from 63rd street on the South Side to Hollywood & Sheridan on North Side. Named for it’s location. Obviously. Also known as LSD.
  • I-355: Begins North in Itasca from I-290 and ends South in Bolingbrook, where it connects to I-55.
  • Tri-State Tollway (I-294): Did you know when highways throw a “2” in front of the name they are avoiding a city? So, I-294 draws a large semicircle around the city, diverging from I-94 North at Deerfield and South at Lansing. It intersects all major highways in the area. Often referred to simply as the “tri-state.”

Ok, so now that we remember those, you’ll be able to follow along. Most radio traffic reports use the highways given names when talking about them. For example, they’ll say “outbound on the Kennedy is 55 minutes to the junction.”

Outbound?? Ok, the thing to remember here is to always remember that everything relates to downtown. If you are traveling toward downtown, you are obviously traveling inbound. But if its back to the suburbs you go, you’re heading outbound.

Now, wait, where is this “junction”? The junction refers to the Kennedy Junction (and sometimes announcers simply say Montrose) where the Edens (I-90) merges into the Kennedy (I-90/94). This is almost always a slowed down area. If you’re heading from the city out to O’hare, you’ll have to pass the junction, and you can usually expect a bit of traffic around that area.

Circle Interchange — this is another big one. This refers to the spot where the Dan Ryan, the Kennedy, and the Eisenhower all meet, just west of the Loop. You’ll know you’re there when you see all the highways spiral up and down around Congress Parkway.

Lake Cook Road — always mentioned in the traffic report, as the line dividing Lake and Cook Counties and the point in which the Edens expressway ends. It is an east-west street in the northern suburbs

O’Hare — Ok, this is an obvious one, but the time it takes to get from O’Hare to downtown, inbound and outbound, are always listed.

Thorndale — a good marker for where you are in traffic. It intersects the Eisenhower about 30 miles from the Loop. This is also the start of the Elgin-O’Hare Expressway.

For more on driving in Chicago, click here.

Tessa McLean

About Tessa McLean

There is just something about that feeling when you have been away — maybe for a weekend, a month, 6 months — and you’re driving into Chicago and that first glimpse of the city skyline appears. It just always makes me smile.

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