By David A. Kelm
Perhaps it is part of our collective consciousness even for those of us not fortunate to take the Great Family Road Trip as a kid. Regardless, there is an image in our mind’s eye – a truly American image of Mom, Dad, kids, dog, luggage and a cooler of sandwiches and juice crammed into a station wagon and headed west or east or south (let’s be honest, nobody went north except for that weird family a couple of houses down that always had a canoe strapped to the roof of the car and talked about how great the Minnesota Boundary Waters were in August).
For the rest of us, though, there was the Great American Family Road Trip. I, for one, spent a great deal of time sitting nestled amongst various pieces of luggage, feet on cooler, peering out the back of the Ford Country Squire (with faux wood-paneled sides), driving America. Spending time in towns and villages along the route to check out a historic marker or battlefield or museum – you know, torture for your average 11-year-old. The traditional family vacation has evolved into today’s destination vacations featuring either point-a-to-point-b travel along interstates or inexpensive air travel. Now, though – much like the storyline of Cars, the Disney animated story about a ghost-town along Route 66 – some in Springfield are looking to divert some I-72 traffic for a short detour through the heart of Springfield.
Alderman Jim Donelan of Springfield’s Ninth Ward has launched just such an effort, in the hopes that more travelers will take a moment or two and meander through Springfield rather than speed on by. The idea was shared with Donelan by Mark Hanna, executive director of Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport. “The business route has long been a way for cities to ensure travelers leave the interstates,” Donelan explained. “When my family traveled we would look for business routes through town knowing that they were safe and would have amenities a family would be looking for.”
Springfield has been home to the I-55 business corridor for years. The route runs between Sherman to the north and Southern View to the south along 6th St., 9th St. and Peoria Rd. Business 55 skirts downtown Springfield as it runs along 9th St. According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, Business 55 has a traffic count of 17,000 along the northern portion, about 25,000 coming into Springfield from the south and about 12,500 where it crosses Clear Lake at 9th.
The I-72 business corridor has not been fully mapped out and Donelan offered a couple of ideas for a linkage between east and west. “Business 72 has to follow a state route,” Donelan explained. “To the east where 72 comes into Springfield at the Kmart, the route could travel along Clear Lake and Jefferson and turn south at Veterans.” Other possible routes include MacArthur to Wabash and Walnut to Veterans for a cruise by the Airport Commerce Park. According to IDOT, the traffic count along the Clear Lake/Jefferson portion of Business 72 is approximately 25,000 cars on average every day.
If Business 72 becomes a reality, Donelan contends that there is nothing but upside for Springfield. “Obviously, I represent Ward 9 and a good portion of Business 72 would be in Ward 9,” the new alderman admitted. “But a new business corridor for I-72 would go through seven different wards and benefit all of Springfield.” Directional signage could be added encouraging travelers to spin through town and increased traffic counts could lead to more businesses along the route. “More traffic means more business and the possibility of travelers voluntarily contributing to our economy, leading to a growing Springfield,” Donelan said.
The development of an I-72 business corridor is still in the discussion phases. Donelan has spoken to the IDOT district engineer and plans to have discussions with Springfield’s public works director Mark Mahoney. The designation of Business 72 resides with IDOT and a committee of sorts that handles official signage. “For the most part, Business 72 would not cost the City of Springfield a dime,” Donelan said. He has also discussed the idea with some in the business community and has received support for the idea. “Everyone I talk to about the designation can’t really come up with a downside. Maybe the worst thing would be increased traffic but I don’t see that as a downside,” Donelan concluded.
While Springfield does not have a Wall Drug or a Corn Palace (let alone the World’s Largest Ball of Twine) enticing travelers to leave the interstate and explore our fair city, we do have the Lincoln Museum, Lincoln Home site, Lincoln Depot, Lincoln Tomb and, of course, the all-powerful horseshoe sandwich. Travelers from the east and tourists from the west may soon see billboards beginning in Indianapolis and St. Joseph, Missouri calling to them to leave the mania of I-72 and take a leisurely cruise along Business 72 to see the sights, buy a tank of gas, gorge on a horseshoe and take in the fabric of Springfield.
David A. Kelm is a Springfield area attorney. He can be reached at DavidAKelm@gmail.com.