The Nearly Forgotten Chicago-Kansas City Expressway, and Why Missouri Has Two Highways Numbered "110"

I will start today's blog by stating that I am not a fan of the Chicago-Kansas City Expressway. Or, more specifically, I am not a fan of "Route 110" in either Missouri or Illinois, mostly because it has been functionally obsolete since the day it was first legislated into existence 11 years ago on May 27th, 2010.

How is it that a highway designated that recently considered forgotten? Probably because nobody knew what to make of it even when it was originally designed.

Even in this article explaining the Chicago-Kansas City route, or CKC, the number 110 doesn't come up once. Today I'm going to explain why I'm not a fan of this road, why it exists, and what I think would help tremendously in making the road a somewhat legitimate part of Illinois' highway system.

Wikipedia Commons Map of IL/MO-110, or the Chicago-Kansas City Expressway, or the *shudders* CKC.

Let's start with the actual route itself. Shouldn't a Chicago to Kansas City Expressway be the shortest, or at least, somewhat shortest, route between the two cities? Here's what happens when I use Google Maps to get directions from Chicago to Kansas City:

Driving Directions from Chicago to Kansas City. No assumptions or addresses other than the two cities were used.

You'll notice Google suggests taking I-55 to I-72, and doesn't use the 110 route until one gets past I-172 near Quincy. As an alternate, Google suggests taking I-88 to I-80 in the Quad Cities, which also does not use the 110 Route past that location. Are you noticing a theme here?  The 110 Route is 536 miles long, much of it below interstate standard highway. Each of these two alternatives is shorter, and it's not as though it bypasses any major traffic bottlenecks.

In fact, Illinois Route 110 is actually a couple miles longer than IL-1, which was the longest route in the state for most of its existence, before 110. 

So why does this road exist? 

Like many infrastructure projects in the area since the 1970's, this was another project to win over the hearts, and more importantly, votes, of Forgottonia, a region in western Illinois which was left out of the highway building boom of the 1950's, and citizens felt as though their government had "forgotten" about them. 

Since the advent of the Interstate Highway System, there had been an effort to construct a direct freeway between Chicago and Kansas City, which was reminiscent of the Cannon Ball Route, an Auto Trail which connected the two cities via Hannibal, MO. One advantage that the route had over other roads between the two cities was that it stayed well north of the Illinois River, and thus the only river that traveler's had to cross was at the Mississippi River. But in the days of modern infrastructure, this isn't as significant of an advantage for the route anymore. 

This interstate proposal was never numbered, and never funded by Congress. Given how many freeways of questionable necessity actually were funded, I think it's safe to say that should have been the end of this road. 

In the 1930's, US-36 and the Mark Twain Memorial Bridge largely replaced the Cannon Ball Route in Missouri, but US-36 in Illinois would run to Springfield and Decatur as opposed to Chicago. The trail's route would nonetheless be largely incorporated into both Illinois State and US Highways, but not along a continuous route, meaning Chicago and Kansas City were no longer linked by highway.


Caption by Lisa Ruble, "Hugh M. Richards crosses the Mississippi River and enters Illinois with his REO tractor, December 1946. Hugh is pulling 32' Fruehauf trailer #4538 in the service of Pacific Intermountain Express and is enroute to Chicago on US 36. Hannibal, MO is visible in the background. Hugh normally meets his fellow Owner Operator relay drivers in Pittsfield, IL, but on this occasion Hugh has ventured into Missouri to assist Wayne Thrasher, who was delayed by a breakdown. Gasoline is the fuel for the engine in the REO. The photo was taken by Peter Stackpole for LIFE Magazine."

Before (and after) Route 110, one would follow present-day I-290, I-88, I-74, US-34, US-67, IL-336, I-172, I-72, US-36 and I-29 to follow the Cannon Ball Route between Chicago and Kansas City.

The modern Route 110 alignment was a low-cost solution to create a continuous singular route as opposed to the numerous roads the route would take between the two states, as it cost Illinois just $94,000 in signs. My guess is that the 110 designation sounded nice, especially since it was created in 2010. Interestingly though, this left the State of Missouri with two state routes numbered 110, with the other being an unrelated road in Jefferson County, that still has yet to be renumbered as of 2021.

And yet, somehow, the State even managed to get this wrong, as no IL-110 signs exist on sign boards in northeast Illinois, and 110 is sparsely signed with the exception of on-road reassurance shields. How are people supposed to use the corridor if they can't locate it?

The worst part of these signs, however, is that where the cardinal direction would usually be placed, a "CKC" banner was placed instead. What were they thinking? These make the 110 signs stick out like a sore thumb, like it isn't supposed to belong there, which, if that's what IDOT was going for, I guess they absolutely nailed it.

There is no part of Route 110 in either Illinois or Missouri that does not share pavement with at least one other route; and in Monmouth, it briefly shares an alignment with US-34, US-67, and IL-164, and in many other places, its concurrent with two other routes, such as the example below.

Bill Burmaster image of IL-94/110/336.

The most ironic thing about this road, however, is that the significant infrastructure investment in the region (I-172, IL-336, US-34 Freeway, US-67 Expressway, et. al) is what makes the road so obsolete in the first place. Forgottonia is no longer forgotten, at least in the sense of highway creation. All these roads existed before 110 came along, with the exception of the Macomb bypass, which nonetheless was planned and funded before the 110 designation, and still today exists as IL-110/336. 

The 110 designation has done nothing to bring Chicago and Kansas City closer. So how do we fix it?

I propose two things to fix this road, and thankfully, each is subtractive, so this could be done for very little to no investment on the part of IDOT. While my initial idea would be to completely decommission the 110 alignment, under the spirit of the initial 2010 legislation, let's do these two things:

Remove the "CKC" banners and return it to an "East-West" alignment, which could also be  "North-South" cardinality between Monmouth and the Missouri State Line, and remove IL-336 and I-172 from the state Highway system. I-172 is, in my opinion, one of the least necessary Interstate highways in the entire US, as it exists as a bypass around Quincy, and the entirety of 110 covers both 172/336 between Macomb and I-72. I call it addition through subtraction. 

By removing the concurrency, the much longer 110 becomes somewhat legitimate as the singular long-distance route between the Quad Cities and Hannibal, MO. I still don't think it should exist beyond that, however, but I'll take what I believe to be a workable solution to a problem nobody asked for.

One could also remove I-88 in its entirety in favor of 110 for the same reason, but I think that goes beyond logical when it comes to remedying the Chicago-Kansas City Expressway.

Let me know what, if anything, you think should come of the road in the comments. Thanks as always for reading!

Comments

  1. As with most everything in Illinois, it is about politics. I've been driving to Quincy from Chicago since 1980. First, for school, then to see relatives. In that time, I've tried many different routes. In 1980, you would take I-55 to US 136 to US 24. By the way, in 1980, I-55 had a stoplight in Dwight. The bypass around Dwight was several years away. US 136 in McLean was roughly the halfway point and I visited the Dixie Truck Stop many times. Coming into Quincy, the IL 336 bypass existed, running from US 24 to IL 96. The first time I encountered it (on IL 104 -- Broadway) coming into Quincy, I scrambled for a map to see where it connected. It didn't. At the time, it was probably the most forlorn bit of Interstate quality highway in the country.

    Now to IL 110. As you may recall, the I-88 designation is a recent construct. It was IL 5 (the "lonely Nickel") for many years. Another political highway that connected Chicago to the Quad Cities by way of DeKalb. It filled an Interstate gap between I-80 and I-90 and provided an alternative to I-80. I think Chicago was never happy that I-80 stayed south of the city limits. I-88 also provided some boodle for the Toll Highway Authority.

    When I was in college, I tried the equivalent routing of IL 110 as it existed back then. It was a series of two lane roads until you got to Monmouth, so it was fairly tortuous back then. Without the shortcut angle provided by I-55, it was longer as well. So outside of one trip where I needed to go north to avoid icy roads across central Illinois, I never went that way.

    Fast forward a few years and I decided to try the new IL 110 routing. At that point the Macomb bypass wasn't finished (arguably it still isn't finished because it is only two lanes). You still have to drive through Good Hope and there are stoplights in Monmouth. Overall, it wasn't that bad and we made excellent time. from my house to my in-law's using IL 110, the distance is 300 miles. Using I-55, I-72, and I-172, the distance is 301 miles. Google says that it is 8 minutes quicker to use I-55. But the trip is far less stressful on IL 110. I-55 is too congested and inevitably features a wreck or two.

    I would agree that if you are going to Hannibal or Kansas City, the I-55 / I-72 routing is shorter.

    But again, politics. The IL 110 routing is likely more about Quincy or Macomb to Chicago than Chicago to Kansas City. I think it makes Forgottonia feel more connected.

    And I agree that if you're going to feature a highway routing, the road signs should be consistent and not be concurrent in total with other routes. Problem is, if you eliminated the overlapping routes, you might create breaks in longer routes, which would be a problem. That said, the designation for IL 336 should be eliminated. I'm not sure if the Interstate designation of I-172 does anything from a fiscal standpoint, but it probably makes Quincy say that it is connected to the Interstate system. Unfortunately, north of US 24, IL 110 isn't built to a full Interstate standard, so extending the Interstate designation is unlikely to happen.

    So net of this for me is that I'd like to see the IL 110 designation be treated as a real road and not just an honorific. It is a viable routing from Chicago to Quincy, if not the shortest route to Kansas City.

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