MUNSTER | Gov. Mitch Daniels on Tuesday said the state has been in talks with a private company that has proposed rebuilding the Cline Avenue Bridge in exchange for the right to collect tolls.
"I know our folks have talked to at least one outfit that says they might be interested in building, in a public/private partnership style, a bridge that instead of being paid for by the taxpayers would be paid for by users over time," Daniels said when asked about proposals for rebuilding the bridge after a speech at a Munster Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
The governor also said a recent proposal to delay the building of a new Nine Span Bridge in Hammond to free up money for rebuilding the 1.25-mile Cline Avenue Bridge in East Chicago is worth a look. He said both options should be explored as far as they can to see if they are plausible.
"But whether either of these will cross that threshold I don't know yet," Daniels said.
He said the private company interested in building the bridge as a public-private partnership is not the company that operates the Indiana Toll Road but declined to identify it.
"Our message to them was if you are serious, we need to know now," Daniels said.
The Indiana Department of Transportation already is proceeding with plans for what it calls the "ground route" option, using Dickey and Riley roads as a permanent detour. Under that option, the bridge would be demolished and not replaced.
INDOT maintains the cost of replacing the bridge would be prohibitive. It has responded to critics of its ground route plan by saying it could rebuild the bridge if someone in Northwest Indiana comes up with $35 million to donate to the project. It has set a Sept. 15 deadline for that to happen.
Northwest Indiana Forum CEO Mark Maassel said doing any project as a private-public partnership can't be ruled out. However, he noted traffic studies of the Cline Avenue Bridge showed 80 percent of its traffic was going to local industries or businesses, and he's not convinced those people would be willing to pay a toll to get there.
The Cline Avenue Bridge over the Indiana Harbor and Shipping Canal was first closed in November 2009 and then condemned the following month when engineers found it to be gravely weakened. Since then, traffic diverted from the bridge has clogged East Chicago streets, with big delays caused by slow or stopped trains at Dickey Road as well as the poorly functioning drawbridge there.