CHICAGO — The mighty — yet often under-construction — Interstate 55 could aptly be called the Sister Road, connecting the two powerhouse cities of Chicago and St. Louis.
It was built to replace the Mother Road, Route 66. The 300-mile stretch of highway from The Windy City to the Gateway to the West is lined with corn and soybean fields and dotted intermittently with exits to Joliet, Bloomington-Normal and the state capital of Springfield and smaller towns.
I-55 was born of the Federal Highway Act of 1956 as part of a national highway plan. Much of the construction was done through the ’70s, starting in Chicago.
Today, about 20,000 vehicles travel along the six-lane corridor with speeds near 70 mph most of the way, according to Illinois Department of Transportation figures.
The Illinois portion of the highway begins at Chicago’s scenic Lake Shore Drive (US 41) and ends on the Poplar St. Bridge over the Mississippi River in St. Louis.
Among the many frequent travelers on I-55 these days are Ryan Strom and his father Lee Strom. They are traveling around the state introducing the public to the Food and Agriculture Roadmap, called FARM Illinois, a strategic plan to establish Illinois and Chicago as a leading global hub for food and agriculture innovation.
FARM Illinois is an economic development plan, said Tyler Strom, its project manager.
Lee Strom, FARM Illinois project director, notes that it builds on the strengths that Chicago, a global city, and Illinois, an agricultural leader, already have.
The Chicago area is home to more than 2,000 food related-businesses, processors and industries as well as the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the Board of Trade and many restaurants and markets using locally grown foods.
St. Louis is also a major center for agriculture. In addition to hosting major ag companies, it serves as headquarters for the United Soybean Board and Monsanto. A major center for crop biosciences, the city boasts more plant-science Ph.Ds than any other.
Illinois is third in the U.S. for total acres of prime farmland, first in soybeans, second in corn and third in hogs. And, it is a hub for transportation, by road, rail and river — snippets of which can be seen along I-55.
Additional reporting by Illinois Farmer Today’s Nat Williams