HAMMOND | Local and state officials gathered in bone-chilling winds Monday to open the new bridge on Indianapolis Boulevard while remembering the former Nine-Span structure that once stood in its place.
"This is the glue that binds the two cities together," said East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland of the bridge in Hammond that leads north into East Chicago.
Indiana Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann; Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr.; state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso; and Indiana Department of Transportation LaPorte District Deputy Commissioner Robert Alderman were among the officials on hand for Monday's ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The old Nine-Span Bridge, which carried cars over the Gibson Yard rail facility on Indianapolis Boulevard, was rated in poor condition by the Federal Highway Administration before being closed for demolition. That bridge underwent major repairs in 2005 and in more recent years, heavy trucks were banned.
Demolition began in January.
McDermott thanked the Indiana Department of Transportation for completing the project quickly, saying businesses in the area were concerned the bridge closure would harm their bottom line.
“We made great things happen in a short amount of time,” McDermott said.
McDermott, a proponent of bike paths in his city and the region, said the sidewalks on either side of the bridge may be used for bike traffic as well.
The bridge with nine steel trusses was a landmark in North Hammond and at one time was one of the busiest routes in the region, taking riders to the East Chicago South Shore commuter rail station.
Memorial plaques with images of the former Nine-Span Bridge unveiled at the ribbon-cutting will be placed at both ends of the bridge and detail the history of old structure, which opened in 1937.
The new bridge is more modern and sleek with concrete construction and sidewalks on both sides.
The $18 million bridge was completed earlier than anticipated by Dunnet Bay Construction of Hammond. Dunnet Bay also held the demolition contract.
Copeland and McDermott were the first to ride over the new bridge in a vintage Hudson Hornet provided by Kline's Servicecenter Inc., which has been located at the north foot of the bridge for more than 30 years.
Owner Earl Kline drove the mayors with son and business partner Ed Kline.
"They did a remarkable job," Ed Kline said. "To tear it down and build it back up in 11 months is amazing."
Both Klines said they are ready for business to pick up again now that the bridge is open.
Ellspermann said the project represents “great cooperation” and provides increased safety and efficiency in the region while allowing for expanding economic development.
Soliday said lawmakers in Indianapolis “like to say Northwest Indiana can’t agree on anything.”
“This is an example of what can happen when people work together,” Soliday said.
Traffic was moving on the new bridge by 1 p.m.
Elected officials kept the ceremony and their remarks brief with gusty winds and frigid temperatures making for bitter cold conditions atop the new bridge.
The question remains of what to call the new structure, which no longer meets the description of the former Nine-Span Bridge. Officials have said no plan is in place to provide a formal name for the bridge.