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The Lincoln Highway Association was officially dissolved in 1935. However, its work and the highway live on in various ways. In addition to the concrete markers, other legacies of the highway continue until today. Various aspects of the Lincoln Highway’s early development pre-dated and predicted some of the elements of current Interstate Highway System. These Lincoln Highway “legacies” went beyond those of paved roadways and transcontinental travel. They include highway directional signing; the urban bypass and intermodal connections.

The Lincoln Highway pioneered in the systematic use of highway directional signs. Early roads were often unmarked or haphazardly posted, making travel over long distances an often frustrating and disorienting experience for the “geographically challenged.” In 1916, under the LHA’s direction, hundreds of volunteers spread out across the route to paint telephone and other poles with the Lincoln Highway’s emblem -- red, white and blue stripes with a large, capital “L.” PHOTO: A Telephone Pole Painted with the Lincoln Highway Emblem in Illinois. Photo Courtesy of the Illinois Lincoln Highway Coalition

As indicated (above) the early signs were later supplemented, in 1928, with concrete route markers when Boy Scouts fanned out across the route of the highway, dug holes in the ground and placed these 3,000 markers along the road at approximately one-mile intervals. It is worth mention that the current Interstate System signs are also red, white and blue. “Milepost” signs are also common along both Interstate and other American roads to this day.

Another Lincoln Highway innovation may well be the “beltway” or “bypass” road concept. Tracing the Lincoln Highway through Illinois, one is somewhat struck by the fact that it never entered Chicago. In fact, it looped around it, always staying some 20-30 miles away to the South and West of the city. This was a deliberate decision of the Association’s leaders. They realized that taking the long distance motorist through congested Chicago streets would result in considerable delay. In any case, the Lincoln Highway route crossed many rail lines entering Chicago. Those wishing to visit the City were easily accommodated. In commenting on this decision, Hokanson wrote that “What the Association created may have been the first of something that would become very familiar to auto travelers fifty years later: the urban bypass.” (LH/MAIN STREET, p 48.) Today, much of the Illinois Lincoln Highway route in the Chicago metropolitan area roughly parallels the I-80 and I-294 Tri-State Tollway central city “bypass routes” of the Chicagoland Interstate Expressway System.

Finally, the Lincoln Highway may have also been one of the first examples of intermodal transportation concept. Since the early 1990s, U. S. Transportation policy has taken up the idea of “intermodal transportation” as its theme. Intermodal refers to the efficient linking, or integration of all forms of transport from pedestrians, bicycles, autos, ships, etc. on upward to airplanes (INTERSTATE, p. 294). Again, perhaps almost on a subconscious level, the Lincoln Highway was a key component of an earlier “intermodal” transportation system, especially in Illinois.

The Lincoln Highway joined up with other long distance highways, such as the Dixie Highway (in Chicago Heights) and U. S. Route 66 in Plainfield, where the two routes share the same roadway for 0.21 miles. PHOTO: Lincoln Highway and U. S. Route 66 Banners, side-by-side, along stretch where the two roads meet and run together along Illinois Route 59 in Plainfield, Illinois. Photo Courtesy of the Illinois Lincoln Highway Coalition.

It also crossed or provided easy access to many of the now famous transcontinental rail passenger trains such as the Illinois Central City of New Orleans (nearby Homewood), the Burlington Zephyrs (Aurora) as well as the then active system of interurban electric railroads that crossed both urban and rural Illinois. Today’s Lincoln Highway route provides access to local (METRA) and Amtrak intercity rail passenger services at such locations as Matteson, Joliet, Aurora and Geneva. Interestingly, METRA just recently extended its current BNSF commuter West Line from Aurora to Elburn, a Lincoln Highway route town in far Western Kane County. Further intermodal connection possibilities were and remain possible with the route’s junctions with the Illinois & Michigan Canal / Des Plaines River waterway system in Joliet and the Mississippi River in Fulton. Finally, the early 20th Century emerging air transportation system also had rural and small municipal airfields along the route. Today’s route passes by or close to many airports, including those in Joliet and Dixon. In many ways, the Lincoln Highway pointed the way toward today’s integrated, intermodal transportation policies and systems.


Interstate 50th Anniversary

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