Mayoral candidate Bill Daley. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Should the Dan Ryan Expressway be the Barack Obama Expressway?

SHARE Should the Dan Ryan Expressway be the Barack Obama Expressway?
SHARE Should the Dan Ryan Expressway be the Barack Obama Expressway?

Mayoral candidate Bill Daley made a surprising proposal Friday: rename the Dan Ryan Expressway on Chicago’s South Side after former President Barack Obama.

“Barack Obama is from Chicago. He owns a home here. This is where the Obama library is based,” Daley said in a statement. “I’d like to see the legislature act on this early next year.”

But a section of Interstate 55, south of the city, was already named after Obama last year — the winner among competing plans from legislators to rename different Illinois highways after him.

Daley, who was the president’s chief of staff in 2011, thinks renaming the expressway after him is more appropriate, said Peter Cunningham, Daley’s spokesman.

But State Rep. La Shawn Ford, (D-Chicago), who proposed the legislation that led to part of I-55 being named after Obama, slammed Daley’s proposal as a “political stunt” and a “ploy to try to cater to black voters.”

Furthermore, Ford, who is also running for mayor, said renaming the Dan Ryan actually cannot be done.

“This just speaks to Daley’s inexperience in the process,” Ford said. “After you have a street dedicated to someone you can’t change it, otherwise we’d be doing it all the time. That’s one of the reasons we didn’t do the Dan Ryan, because it was already taken.”

Ford said that’s also the reason only part of I-55 was named after Obama.

The state has authority to change the name of a bridge or roadway in three different ways: governor proclamation, legislative resolution or designation from the transportation secretary, according to Jessie Decker, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

“As a general policy, IDOT discourages naming two roads near one another for the same person because it causes confusion for motorists,” she said. “We are not aware of any existing resolutions or dedications being rescinded in order to rename a road.”

But, “technically, it is possible” to rename the Dan Ryan after Barack Obama, Decker said.

Cunningham said Daley has not yet discussed the idea with any members of the General Assembly.

“It’s an idea Bill has been thinking about for a while,” he said. “Our other expressways are named for presidents. Bill hopes that the people of Chicago will give it serious consideration.”

Dan Ryan, the road’s current namesake, was a longtime commissioner on the Cook County Board from 1954-61. A South Side forest preserve, the Dan Ryan Woods, is also named after him.

“Renaming the highway for President Obama will be a daily reminder for all of us that America’s first African-American President was shaped by Chicago,” Daley said. “We were part of history.”

This year was the state’s first celebration of Barack Obama Day on Aug. 4, an honor to Obama signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

The Latest
David Smith, complete streets manager at the Chicago Department of Transportation, sat down for an interview recently to answer cyclists’ most pressing questions.
Here’s what 200 cyclists said in a survey of riders in the city.
He likes interacting with the few kids who care, but the apathy shown by most students brings him down.
The man, 55, struggled with two suspects over his bag on the train near the 95th Street station about 3 a.m., police said.
The seeds were planted in 2020 when many drivers glimpsed sparser traffic, fewer cops and wide open roads, and thought they could take more risks without any consequences. So when traffic volumes returned to close to pre-pandemic levels in 2021, the dangerous driving trends continued, experts said.