Skyway is Interstate-90 unless state withdraws reports - Feds

June 28, 2005
By Peter Samuel
The signage is inconsistent - this one has the Skyway as I-90
The signage is inconsistent - this one has the Skyway as I-90
This one at Stony Av entry also has Skyway I-90
This one at Stony Av entry also has Skyway I-90
Here's a
Here's a "To I-90" designation

The Chicago Skyway is an official interstate highway and should be labeled I-90 according to the Federal Highway Administration, although this is based on Illinois DOT's repeated representations, they say, not on any records search for the original certification. The City of Chicago, which owns the Skyway, modified at least some of the "I-90" signs on the Skyway in 1999, changing them to "To I-90" apparently after it was discovered that the Skyway had never been officially approved as an interstate highway.

The official U.S. Government (FHWA) map of the interstate highway system has the Skyway as Interstate.

"No doubt it is an interstate..."

In response to a question the FHWA's office of legal counsel has just forwarded us a memo from the FHWA office which deals with highway designations which states: "There is no doubt about it. The Chicago Skyway is officially part of I-90 that (has) always been included in the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways."

We had wondered if there was in fact an 8mi gap in I-90 in the heart of Chicago, as described by various local road geeks.

I-90 is America's longest interstate stretching 5,008km (3,111mi) between downtown Seattle and Boston's Logan Airport. We asked FHWA's lawyers for official clarification on whether this "Skyway gap" exists in I-90.

"No gap..."

Cecilio A Leonin of the FHWA Office of Program Administration says in a memo copied to the FHWA office of legal counsel:

"There is no gap on Interstate 90 between the Indiana-Illinois stateline and the Dan Ryan Expressway or I-94. This is a segment of I-90 about 8 miles long known as the Chicago Skyway. Our records show that the Illinois DOT always included this segment of I-90 in the preparation of the Interstate Cost Estimates (ICE) that were being reported to Congress during the height of the Interstate construction period. It was also shown as being reported by the State DOT on the Status of Development of the Interstate System in Illinois in conjunction with the ICE. Presently, the Illinois DOT periodically reports the lane miles and vehicle miles of travel (VMT) in the State that are used in calculating its share of the yearly apportionments of Interstate Maintenance (IM) funds. The Chicago Skyway portion of I-90 is included in the State's reports."

"We have been relying on Illinois DOT..."

FHWA attorney Michael Harkins does add an intriguing qualification in passing on Leonin's answer: "The answer (from Leonin of the Office of Program Administration FHWA), while concluding that there is no doubt about the Insterstate status of the Skyway, is based on the fact that IDOT (Illinois DOT) (has) been certifying to us for years that the Skyway (is) part of I-90. It is not based on our records showing that we took action to incorporate the Skyway as an Interstate."

The Feds, it appears, are not going to take any initiative to open up the issue of the status of the Skyway, unless of course Illinois DOT 'fesses up to a ghastly misrepresentation of the Skyway as an interstate highway for all these years!

$$$$$$s at stake

Now a bunch of other states, especially big road spenders like Texas, California, Florida, Virginia and New York have a major financial interest in the discovery that Illinois DOT has been exaggerating - if indeed it has been exaggerating - its miles of interstate by 8 miles all these years since it must have gotten a higher percentage than it deserved of total fed-$s for maintenance each year since the Skyway opened in 1958.

Class action lawyers will surely soon be buzzing around the 49 state capitals - like bees around a newly discovered grove of honey trees - to mobilize the states which may have been done out of their fair share of federal interstate maintenance (IM) grants by this alleged 47 year long Illinois DOT misrepresentation!

The plaintiff states could stand to gain tens of millions of dollars by the retrospective 'de-interstating' of the Skyway, and the subsequent recalculation of IM entitlements.

Illinois in turn would perhaps have to repay the money - along with IRS-type penalties and interest, the lawyers for 49 states would no doubt insist.

Illinois DOT's lawyers, after quietly cursing the City of Chicago for their giveaway re-signing of 1999, might counter that there is a statute of limitations in such matters.

The feds, wisely in our opinion, are not going to take any initiative to open up this can of worms!

But to mix the metaphor - this is still one hellish hot potato! TOLLROADSnews 2005-06-28

POSTSCRIPT: We've just discovered an email dated 19 Aug 1999 from Frank J Brinskelle, Skyway Improvements (project) Manager for the City of Chicago in which he explains the change of some of the Skyway signs from "I-90" to "To I-90" as follows:

"The Chicago Skyway Toll Bridge System was never incorporated into the Interstate System and was incorrectly marked as Interstate 90. This point was recently researched and no documentation was found. This was recently corrected by properly adding the 'To' designation over the (I-90) route marker," writes the City official.

Is this the smoking gun? The key to Fort Knox for 49 states? And the path to the poorhouse for the state of Illinois? TOLLROADSnews 2005-06-28


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