SPRINGFIELD – Just as the summer vacation season is getting underway, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today announced that the Illinois Alliance of Byways, a collection of seven nationally recognized historic roadways in Illinois, has been cited by a national transportation group for serving as a model for cooperation among byways.
“Receiving this national honor for our seven scenic byways is a great reminder of the wonderful vacation opportunities available right here in Illinois. I invite families from across the state and across the nation to include these historic routes in their vacation plans and learn more about what our state has to offer,” Gov. Blagojevich said.
Representatives of the Illinois byways accepted the Sharing Success and Honoring Excellence award for Sustainable Organizations during the 2007 National Scenic Byways Conference of the American Association of Highway Transportation Officials in Baltimore, Maryland. The seven byways in Illinois are: Historic National Road; Meeting of the Great Rivers; Illinois Lincoln Highway; Ohio River Scenic Byway; Great River Road; Illinois River Road; and Historic Route 66. The award recognizes not only the partnership within the Illinois Alliance of Byways, but also the relationship with the Illinois Bureau of Tourism of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT).
While each of the byways is unique, they share a common purpose – to attract more visitors to Illinois and provide them with an educational and entertaining experience. Their joint vision led to the formation of the Illinois Alliance of Byways in February 2006 to formally unite the seven byways. The alliance obtained a grant from the Illinois Bureau of Tourism that has allowed them to market themselves as a group rather than individual byways at venues such as the Illinois State Fair and a St. Louis travel show.
The Bureau of Tourism provided a total of $280,000 in Special Grants to the seven byways ($40,000 each) to accomplish a number of projects in each byway region. Examples include: marketing through Web sites and advertising; an ambassador program for Route 66 offering first-person, in-depth interpretation of specific areas of the route; a Route 66 brochure; membership program development for the byways; an inventory of Road Art for the Great River Road to package and market; informational kiosks throughout the Great River Road; trip itineraries; map development; photo library creation for some of the byways and much more.
National Scenic Byways Director Michelle Johnson described the Illinois Alliance as a “model of cooperation among byways.”
“When you talk about the heritage of Illinois you are talking about the history of transportation in America,” said Illinois Department of Transportation Acting Secretary Milt Sees. “That’s why IDOT is proud to play a role in promoting the seven Scenic Byways that have played such an important role in the history of our state and nation.”
“This national recognition for the seven Scenic Byways in Illinois provides a well-timed boost to Governor Blagojevich’s efforts to continue expanding Illinois’ tourism industry. Thanks to this national attention, more visitors will learn about all Illinois has to offer, which ultimately will support even more businesses and jobs across our state,” said Jan Kostner, Deputy Director, Illinois Bureau of Tourism.
Following are some details about the seven Scenic Byways in Illinois:
The Great River Road:
Throughout history, the Mississippi River influenced many lives: the Dakota, Chippewa and Hopewell cultures; early French voyagers; African-Americans seeking freedom on the Underground Railroad; and many more. The Illinois section of the Great River Road starts in the northwest corner of the state in East Dubuque and follows the Mississippi south to Cairo at the southern tip of the state. Through its charming river towns and metropolitan cities, historic sites and cultural artifacts, today’s Great River Road still links resources, people and history.
Historic National Road - Illinois (part of Historic National Road):
On Illinois’ National Historic Road, rolling countryside, prairie fields, and small towns whisper of an earlier time. The Illinois section starts at Marshall and follows US Rt. 40 for 164 miles to East St. Louis. Main street stores speak of small town U.S.A., where soda fountains, museums and antiques showcase days gone by. Hayfields, cattle and old barns intermingled with small towns all beckon you to stay awhile.
Historic Route 66:
The starting point of Route 66, which took travelers from Chicago to Los Angeles and was immortalized by the song “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66,” is at the corner of Lake Shore Drive and Jackson Blvd. in Chicago. The Illinois route winds through Chicago and travels alongside or close to Interstate 55. It covers 420 miles before it ends in East St. Louis at the Martin Luther King Memorial Bridge.
Illinois River Road:
Known as “the Route of the Voyageurs,” after the early French explorers, the route covers 271 miles through the heart of the state and runs from Ottawa to Havana. It includes much of Routes 26 and 29 on each side of the river. The Illinois River valley imparts feelings of awe at the power of the river winding its way through a land form carved by glacial melt water. Experience the seasonal colors and rhythms of the forests, wetlands, bluffs, and prairies on your own or follow one of 7 different nature activity guides.
Follow the original alignment of Lincoln Highway, the United States’ first paved transcontinental highway. It begins near the Indiana border at Chicago Heights and heads west for 179 miles through northern Illinois, ending at Fulton on the Mississippi River. Shop, dine, and spend the night while exploring the heartland and culture the many Illinois Lincoln Highway communities have to offer.
Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Route:
Here, the Missouri, Mississippi and Illinois Rivers meet to form a 35,000-acre floodplain. The Mississippi, a working river, is also an environmental treasure. Historic 18th Century river towns, islands, bars, points and bends create beautiful scenery beneath limestone bluffs that are covered by forests extending over nearly 20,000 acres. The 33-mile route starts at Pere Marquette State Park near Grafton and follows IL Rt. 100 along the Mississippi River, ending at Hartford. In April, this scenic route was designated one of the Seven Wonders of Illinois, which is part of the Bureau of Tourism’s first online, consumer-driven marketing campaign designed to highlight a wide variety of destinations throughout Illinois.
Ohio River Scenic Byway:
This history-rich Byway starts at New Haven and meanders along the Ohio River banks, hugging its shoreline and offering almost continuous views of the river. It ends in Cairo. The history of the Ohio is found both in rural landscapes and quaint river communities, covering periods from Native American habitation through western settlement, affecting transportation patterns and industrialization.
In 2005, travel to Illinois directly accounted for more than 300,000 Illinois jobs that generated nearly $7.9 billion in payroll. The economic impact generated by travel spending in 2005 in Illinois grew to a record high $26.2 billion, an increase of 6.8 percent, generating $1.84 billion in state and local tax revenue, according to the Travel Industry Association of America. This added an additional $74.2 million in state and local taxes in 2005.
The National Scenic Byways are part of a collection of 126 routes recognized by U.S. Department of Transportation as the most significant routes throughout the nation. Once a road is designated as a National Scenic Byway, they receive national recognition on the www.byways.org Web site, and they are actively promoted as tourist destinations by the Federal Highway Administration.