End of the Des Plaines Oasis - Metropolitan Planning Council

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End of the Des Plaines Oasis

Flickr user Rob Galloway (cc)

Inside the Des Plaines Oasis, which closed on March 16 in advance of tollway improvements.

After 55 years of operation, the Des Plaines Oasis over the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) closed on Sunday, March 16. It was not for a lack of customers, but rather as a result of the $2.5 billion Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90) Rebuilding and Widening Project.

The removal of the oasis will allow a fourth lane to be added in each direction from O’Hare Airport to Elgin, a roughly 27-mile trip. According to the Tollway, the widening is expected to save drivers up to 27 minutes on a trip from Elgin to Rosemont (25 miles) and approximately $440 million annually in reduced traffic delays. In addition, the inside lane and shoulder in both directions will be widened to provide accommodations for future transit opportunities.

Back when the Oasis was constructed in 1959, tollway travel was designed primarily for drivers as a way around Chicago. Today, on the other hand, most tollway traffic is bi-directional commuter traffic. As a result, the Des Plaines Oasis transformed over time with changing trends. In 1959, Fred Harvey Restaurants operated the Oasis restaurant as a fancy sit down “destination” restaurant .  In 1975, Howard Johnson’s took over,  and 1984 the restaurants were converted to fast food chains such as McDonalds.. Since then, companies holding the concessions for the oases have changed several times, but the emphasis has been on fast food and quick traveler services.

While many states have rest stops providing food, gasoline, and other services on their toll highways, the oases along the Illinois Tollway are unique in their “bridge” design over the roadway. It is an efficient design minimizing the use of land for buildings.

The Des Plaines Oasis was unique in a few other regards. In 1980, a scene in the “Blues Brothers” movie was filmed there. And it was the only Chicago-area oasis with public transit service. Pace Route 606 operated between the Rosemont CTA Station and the Northwest Transportation Center in Schaumburg, Ill., providing limited service to the Des Plaines Oasis for workers. That service ended on March 16.

So what’s a tollway traveler to do? There’s understandably a lot of nostalgia around the closure. This oasis and the six that remain on the Illinois Tollway are a slice of history and a reminder of the golden age of highway travel. So the next time you stop at an oasis, remember the Des Plaines Oasis and the many travelers it served in its 55-year history.


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