The Worst Highway Interchanges in Chicago

Jane Byrne and Her Famous Spaghetti Junction
Jane Byrne and Her Famous Spaghetti Junction

As a consultant, I travel a lot around Chicagoland. As such, I have gotten to know the interstate system very well over the last seven plus years. The following are the worst ramps, interchanges, and places to merge in Chicagoland.

  • I-355 NB to I-88 E – Haven’t really had any issues here, but it’s still tough as people from the merge lane are also trying to get over to the 355 N ramp which is to the right of your lane.
  • I-355 NB to I-88 W – Heavy traffic on 88 can mean you might be getting off at Rt 53 whether you want to or not, because you can’t merge. Let’s hope not, because there’s not a way to get on to I-88 W again until Naperville.
  • I-294 NB to I-90 W – Permanent traffic death march that’s only exacerbated in rain and snow.
  • I-294 SB to I-88 W – The trick here is to stay in the right-most lane on 294. Do not get over. Let people from 290 get on and over, but just stay in your lane and you’ll be fine.
  • I-88 West: Harlem and Austin exits – Floor it and pray nobody is in the left lane. Ironically, this is the one spot where if there’s traffic it works in your favor (if you’re on the ramp that is).  
  • Jane Byrne Circle Interchange – All ramps. Goes without saying.
  • I-90 SB Randolph exit – You basically have 10 feet to merge. You’ll need a wing and a prayer if you’re trying to get on and catch I-290. 
  • I-190 and Mannheim: Every ramp at this interchange is garbage.

Westbound to O’Hare, you have about 20 feet to get over if you’re trying to get on Mannheim south. I find this to be borderline impossible because the onramp from Mannheim is almost always solid with traffic coming hot and heavy at you. 

Eastbound to 294 it’s exponentially worse. O’Hare allows people to drive on the shoulder on 190 East, but it’s poorly marked. If you are a glutton for being honked at, having lights and fingers flashed at you, this is the ramp for you, because that always happens here. If you’re in the shoulder lane, you first have to deal with the Mannheim south traffic getting on to 190 and then about 100 yards later you have to deal with the Mannheim north traffic merging. Depending on traffic, it can be incredibly intense. The cherry on top of this merge sundae is that on top of all of this, you also need to deal with drivers in the conventional lane all trying to get onto I-294 southbound. It’s to be avoided at all costs.

  • I-88 and IL 31 – Westbound, this is possibly the sharpest off ramp in the Chicagoland area. You really do need to go 25 MPH or else. There’s a reason the barricades are always dented on this ramp. Also, the eastbound ramp is not great either. Namely because you always get behind someone going 10 MPH who will not accelerate..
  • I-39 and Hwy 20 – This is a stretch for Chicagoland proper as its in Rockford, but this ramp has more holes than Swiss cheese. I’m not calling this ramp bumpy, but let’s just say when I need paint shaken, I drive my car out to here because it’ll be well mixed. I’m not wild about the few left-hand exits in the area, but this one is not only poorly marked, but the road is in such dire condition, that I’d be remiss if I didn’t include it on this list.