Route 66 or Route 126?

Like many of the original State Bond Issue (SBI) Routes in Illinois, Illinois Route 126 has existed in a couple different places, and runs an entirely different alignment than its original routing. Today, it exists as a 17 mile, mostly two lane road from Interstate 55 near Bolingbrook to Illinois Route 71 in Yorkville.

What makes the 126 number an especially interesting case is how much the highway's history is tied to both Illinois Route 66, which it replaced, and US Highway 66, which replaced it in two different spots, only for 126 to replace it again after US-66's decommissioning. IL-126 first came into existence as a road from Springfield to Litchfield.

The last sentence was tricky, but the highway replaced both SBI 66 in Illinois, and the Mother Road. Today we're going to explore this interesting quirk in Illinois' State Highway system.
US 66 sign just outside Plainfield, IL in the early 1940's, when the road moved from Joliet Road to the present-day IL-126 alignment.

First let's discuss Illinois Route 66, which hasn't existed since the 1930’s because of the US Highway. While Illinois does allow different classes of routes to have duplicative numbers in the state (i.e. I-90 and IL-90 both exist), the state will renumber highways if such duplicity may cause confusion. This is why IL-88 was renumbered IL-40 when I-88 came into existence; it crossed the then-IL-88 while US-40 is in far southern Illinois. 

US-66 and IL-66 on the 1929 Illinois State Highway Map.

IL-66 came into existence in the 1920's as the road from Welco Corners to Plainfield, on what would become US-66 in 1940. It' was almost certainly numbered as such because it was planned to become US-66 in relatively short order. 

US-66 and IL-4 used an alignment along present-day I-55 and Route 53 to continue south as opposed to Joliet Road during this time, which opened in the area in 1936.

1935 Illinois Highway Map. Look at all those numbers! Few of them remain today.

IL-66 did not appear on the 1931 Illinois highway map, only to reappear again in 1932, and finally be replaced by IL-126 in 1935. Prior to 1940, US-66 ran along present-day Joliet Road.

Illinois Route 126 first appeared in 1929 as a Springfield-Litchfield road, paralleled to the west by US-66. US-66 would eventually take this alignment down to Litchfield, and in 1934, was actually signed concurrently with 126 along this path, while IL-4 remained along US-66's original path (and still does in the area), until 126 took over the Welco Corners-Plainfield alignment, and the original 66 along Joliet Road became ALT-US-66.

IL-126 on the 1929 Illinois State Highway Map from Springfield to Litchfield, before it was replaced by US-66.

So in the span of six years between 1934-1940, IL-126 was replaced in two completely different regions of the state by the same route, and replaced its namesake State route at the same time. At some point in the 1930's, the 126 number was also extended west from Plainfield to Yorkville on the present-day alignment, leaving Plainfield as the east end of the highway.

Illinois Route 126 would then replace US-66 in 1957 when the US Highway would be moved onto the freeway alignment that would eventually become Interstate 55. Thus, for the road between Bolingbrook and Plainfield, it was known as the following designations over its lifetime:

Chicago & Ottawa Road (pre-State highway name)
IL-66 (1929-1934)
IL-126 (1935-1940)
US-66 (1940-1957)
IL-126 (1957-Present)

It's one thing for a highway to change numbers; its another for it to change back - only to do so again two more times. 1957 Illinois State Highway Map.

Since the IL-66 designation hasn't been used since 1934, and since it would be much easier to designate a state highway than re-designating a US Route, I have advocated for introducing Illinois Route 66 into the state highway system along a route similar to one of the several that US 66 took through the state. 

While my personal opinion would have the highway run along Joliet Road to Joliet, there's no reason it couldn't replace 126 to Plainfield once again, but that seems a little silly to me. 

For what its worth, I think an Illinois Route 66 makes far greater sense, and could have a significantly greater impact to the communities along the route, than Illinois Route 110.

Thanks as always for reading!

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