July 03–With little fanfare from officials, signs went up in recent months marking the newly named Barack Obama Presidential Expressway, a stretch of about 80 miles of Interstate 55 from the southwest suburbs to Pontiac.
While the March unveiling lacked the usual pomp and circumstance, state Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, said politics — the Illinois Department of Transportation is overseen by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner — didn’t play a role. Ford said they didn’t want to have a ceremony without the former president and couldn’t coordinate with his busy schedule.
“Because we’ve already got the dedication approval by the General Assembly, instead of sitting on it until we could get a dedication with the president, we just decided to mark the territory,” Ford said. “I think there will be a time when President Obama will be able to do a dedication.”
Ford led the charge last year to rename the stretch — starting on a part of the Tri-State Tollway in the southwest suburbs to mile marker 202 near Pontiac — after the nation’s first African-American president, who lived in Chicago for many years and launched his political career here. Ford also thinks Obama frequently traveled through that stretch of I-55 on his many trips to Springfield as a young state lawmaker.
“It’s part of the making of President Obama,” Ford said. “He traveled that road for many, many years. One day he’s going to be happy to travel that road (again) and have some reflections on all those times that he traveled down it.”
Obama did frequently travel on that stretch of I-55 when traveling from Chicago to Springfield, said Eric Schultz, a senior adviserfor Obama, in an email. He declined to further comment on whether Obama would make the trip for a dedication ceremony anytime soon. Michelle Obama is a native of Chicago, and the family has kept their Kenwood home on the city’s South Side. But they decided to stay in Washington, D.C., after leaving the White House at least until their youngest daughter, Sasha, graduates high school.
The expressway’s renaming isn’t just to invoke nostalgia. Ford wants the expressway’s markers to one day spark a conversation about the former president among young people who weren’t around for Obama’s presidential days.
“I think just the fact that the president was able to defy the odds, you know, it was inspirational for me,” Ford said. “As it was for people of all races and ethnicities and people of all walks of lives.”
And though the expressway doesn’t exactly connect the not-yet-built Obama Presidential Center on Chicago’s South Side, Ford said the expressway will serve as a road to a center dedicated to another president from Illinois — the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield.
This article provided by NewsEdge.