Why is a Highway Rest Area Called an ‘Oasis’ in Illinois?
Drive around the Chicago area and you'll see something unique in all of American motoring, an exit for an 'Oasis.' Highway service plazas have an identity all their own in Illinois.
Rest areas are very common along interstate routes. Usually, they are a place to pull off the road, use the facilities and are generally stocked with a few vending machines. These roadside necessities are 'rest areas' even in Illinois.
The Oasis is in a class by itself. These are the style of rest stops generally only found along toll highways. They are gas and restaurants all in one and never require you to exit.
In other states like Indiana, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma they're generally referred to as Service Plazas. But in Illinois when the first tollways were being constructed in 1958, the plazas were given the name "Oasis." Likely an allusion to the fact that expressway travel was different then with wider-spread exits and without an abundance of gas and food choices immediately available.
The "Oasis" truly was like the desert name implies - a rare respite on a long journey.
Why Are There So Few Tollway Oases Left?
The tollway oasis is, sadly, becoming rarer and rarer. Unlike Turnpikes in states like Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and New York which are all cross-state long-distance routes. The Illinois Tollway series of highways were built up around Chicagoland and are now in the most densely populated areas in the state. There is a lesser need for the Oasis. Where the system once had 7 plazas, today it's down to just 4. 3 Oases, Hinsdale, Des Plains and O'Hare have all been demolished to accomodate highway expansion projects.
The legendary Route 66 began in Chicago and the old road crosses the Tri-State Tollway not far from the Chicago Southland/Lincoln Oasis. Here's the best of what you'd see if you got your kicks on the Mother Road.