MICHIGAN CITY | For more than 80 years, the main entrance to Michigan City's lakefront has been controlled by a draw bridge that stops traffic when raised to let sailboats with their tall masts pass.
But the future of the draw bridge on Franklin Street is now in doubt.
LaPorte County commissioners have ordered an engineering study to determine if a stationary bridge would be more feasible.
The current bridge, which is owned by LaPorte County, is becoming costly to maintain, officials say. A stationary bridge would allow traffic to and from the lake to keep flowing instead of backing up when the bridge is raised.
"It's a study. We don't know what's going to come of it," Commissioner Dave Decker said.
Commissioners last month voted to allocate $1.5 million to replace worn gears and other parts, sand off rust and repaint the bridge.
The goal was to complete the renovation before the 2014 boating season.
That plan has changed, and Decker now says the restoration might be done over a three- to five-year period. The draw bridge will continue to operate while engineers come up with a plan for a stationary bridge and erect it, if commissioners decide to replace the draw bridge.
"There is some work that needs to be done immediately," Decker said.
The trick will be to design a stationary bridge high enough for sailboats to pass beneath, but not too steep for vehicle traffic.
That could be a challenge because of the short distance from Trail Creek to Washington Park and might require a slight change in location.
"It's going to have to be put off to the side and swung in there," Decker said.
Michigan City Mayor Ron Meer said he wants to look at the design of the fixed bridge and determine what impact it might have on the ongoing revitalization of the downtown before deciding whether he's for or against it.
"I want to see how it affects that whole area on the north end. A stationary bridge, to get the proper heights off the water, it's going to have to be a tall bridge," Meer said.
He's also concerned a stationary bridge would result in a whole new entrance to the lakefront and whether that would deter traffic away from attractions such as the Washington Park Zoo.
"I would have to start to see some drawings and engineering work before I make any really sound opinion on it," Meer said.