Cline Avenue Bridge still in planning stage

2014-03-18T16:40:00Z 2014-03-25T18:19:26Z Cline Avenue Bridge still in planning stageKeith Benman, (219) 933-3326

Owners of the former Cline Avenue Bridge right of way say construction of a new bridge will start this year, even though important steps such as raising up to $250 million are not yet complete.

A Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission committee Tuesday received an update on the project's status from a local subcontractor, who told the panel designing, surveying, traffic analysis and other preliminary activities continue.

"We are making progress toward building the replacement structure," American Structurepoint Vice President Christopher Murphy told the NIRPC Transportation Policy Committee during its regular meeting in Portage.

In October, the CEO of the company that will build the bridge said construction should start in the first half of 2014. In February 2013, East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland said construction might start as early as that April.

The new bridge will be all-electronically tolled, so there will not be toll booths, Murphy said. The expected toll for cars will be between $2.25 and $3.25.

The new bridge will be a post-tensioned concrete box structure, which is the same construction type as the former bridge. However, Murphy said big improvements in technology since the construction of the former bridge mean the new one will have an expected 100-year lifespan.

The Cline Avenue Bridge over the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal was condemned in December 2009, when engineers determined its interior support cables had become gravely weakened. It had been in service just 26 years.

Also, the concrete girders for the new bridge will be cast on the ground and lifted into place by cranes. The former bridge had its girders cast in place high above the ground. A tragic collapse during its construction in 1982 killed 14 construction workers.

The new bridge will have a channel opening of 200 feet and a height of 100 feet above the water, Murphy said. Those are the same as the former bridge, which was built to accommodate large freighters from the Great Lakes.

American Structurepoint, of Indianapolis, is a subcontractor to the FIGG Group, of Tallahassee, Fla., the firm that will build the new bridge. FIGG Group has built bridges across the country, including privately tolled ones like the one contemplated for Cline Avenue as well as more traditional projects.

Murphy pointed out FIGG Group was the lead designer on the Interstate 35 W Bridge in Minneapolis, which was opened just a year after the former bridge's tragic collapse in August 2007.

NIRPC Deputy Director Steve Strains noted mayors of north Lake County cities report some nearby local streets have been clogged with traffic at certain times of the day ever since the former Cline Avenue Bridge's closure.

“We have a tale of two bridges, one in Minnesota where there was urgency to replace it and one where there is no urgency to replace it," Strains said. "Let's get it built."

In another presentation, Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Jim Pinkerton said his agency has accepted bids for five bridge deck replacements on a stretch of Interstate 94 between Chesterton and Portage. The contract has not been awarded yet, but Rieth Riley Construction, of Goshen, was the apparent low bidder at $17.6 million, according to a tabulation of bids at INDOT's website.

The Transportation Policy Committee also approved spending money on preliminary engineering for 15 bridge projects throughout the region, including three on Cline Avenue east of where the new toll bridge is to be constructed. Most of those projects are scheduled for 2018.

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