East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland on Thursday said construction of the new Cline Avenue Bridge could start as early as April, with state officials now concluding land swaps that will put the bridge right of way in the hands of a private company.
Construction of the span could be done in as little as 13 to 15 months from the start date, Copeland said.
"This will take some of the traffic off the ground routes," Copeland said Thursday after a meeting of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission in Portage. "I mean, it will take a lot, a lot of traffic off the ground routes and re-establish the direct link to the casinos."
Demolition of the last segment of the bridge took place in January and state officials have said once debris was cleaned up, the land swap would take place.
A call to Linda Figg, CEO of the FIGG Group, of Tallahassee, Fla., which is managing the new bridge project, was not returned Thursday.
According to INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield, demolition contractor Walsh Construction continues to clean up at the site of the bridge. Once that work is complete and the construction company leaves, the land exchange will be finalized, Wingfield said.
That land swap would have the company United Bridge Partners, a subsidiary of a San Francisco hedge fund, come into possession of the remaining elevated portion of the road as well as the right of way over the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal.
The company plans to build a toll bridge in place of the INDOT bridge that was condemned in December 2009. The bridge was condemned after it was found interior support cables had rusted out, gravely weakening the 1.2 mile structure.
After the bridge closed, INDOT said there was no money available to replace it, despite the fact that the replacement of the entire bridge superstructure already was scheduled before the emergency closure.
Former Gov. Mitch Daniels pushed for the deal to turn the bridge over to private investors to rebuild it as a toll bridge.
Copeland said Figg has promised to work with the city of East Chicago to employ local people on the project. The city of East Chicago is hopeful of also landing the bridge maintenance contract for the project.
The estimated cost of replacing the bridge is $150 million to $250 million. The city of East Chicago has granted United Bridge Partners 10 years of tax abatements and created a tax increment financing district so increased property tax proceeds from the bridge can be put back into the project.
As part of the deal, the city of East Chicago will get 10 cents of every toll paid by vehicles using the bridge. The toll amount has not yet been set.