GUEST COMMENTARY: Lake County is a big focus of INDOT efforts

2014-01-26T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Lake County is a big focus of INDOT effortsBy Karl Browning
January 26, 2014 12:00 am  • 

I write in response to the Jan. 20 article, “Donnelly tears into state for failure to fix Cline Avenue, calls it shameful.”

Allow me to share some facts regarding the Cline Avenue Bridge. While Northwest Indiana traffic growth has exploded the past few decades, the former Cline Avenue Bridge never kept pace. Traffic volumes projected in the late 1970s did not anticipate consolidation and automation in the nearby steel mills. By the time the Indiana Department of Transportation closed the bridge in 2009, traffic had fallen below half of its six-lane capacity.

After much discussion, eight Northwest Indiana legislators, East Chicago Mayor Copeland and the East Chicago City Council supported a proposal to rebuild Cline Avenue as a private toll bridge. The state supported a different alternative, but listened to this input and agreed to support the vision of the local communities.

INDOT signed an agreement with Cline Avenue Bridge LLC in May 2012. Following demolition of the closed bridge, the right of way underneath was deeded over in June 2013 and is now private property.

By comparison, the Sherman Minton Bridge between southern Indiana and Louisville, Ky., has the same number of lanes, but carried more than double the traffic when it closed in 2011 due to structural concerns. It is part of the nearly 1,000-mile-long I-64 corridor and one of only three roads across the Ohio River into Louisville.

But perhaps the most important difference is it could be rehabilitated for $14 million, which was split with Kentucky, while the Cline Avenue Bridge could not realistically be repaired in place.

Incidentally, the existing I-65 crossing into Louisville is also being converted to a toll bridge as part of construction for two new toll bridges in the area.

The existing Cline Avenue leading up to the future bridge needs repairs. The necessary engineering work was performed and completed long before potholes opened this month.

In October, INDOT awarded a $7.2 million contract to Rieth-Riley Construction to patch and resurface Cline Avenue from the Borman to U.S. 12, which will begin work this spring. Until local hot mix asphalt plants reopen, both state and local governments will continue to work hard keeping potholes patched. INDOT is working with local leaders on a bulk purchase of hot mix for a more permanent fix to the plague of potholes we've seen this winter.

As the state’s second most populous county, Lake County has been the second largest recipient of state highway funds since the Major Moves program began. INDOT has invested $450 million in the county since 2006, including widening the Borman Expressway, the reconstruction of the Nine Span Bridge in Hammond, and the 4th and 5th Avenue resurfacing in Gary.

In addition, INDOT is leveraging its resources to attract private investment in Lake County infrastructure. The Indiana Toll Road lease required a $250 million expansion in Lake County, which was completed in 2011.

Just recently, INDOT amended $346 million into the region’s transportation plan for the Illiana Corridor and to widen I-65 between Lowell and Merrillville.

As you can see, Lake County is a big recipient of transportation funds and will continue to be an important customer of INDOT as we strive to serve all Hoosiers.

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