Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Superintendent Costa Dillon's vision for a hiking and biking suspension bridge in Portage is worth pursuing.
Dillon wants to help pedestrians and bicyclists get safely across U.S. 12,* Ind. 249 and Burns Ditch.
His prototype is the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge that connects Omaha, Neb., and Council Bluffs, Iowa. That $44 million bridge, which opened in 2008, connects to a network of a trails and parks on both sides of the Missouri River.
"This is a stunning bridge that can become an icon of Northwest Indiana, a symbol of how Northwest Indiana views its lakefront," Dillon said. "What a perfect metaphor of the blending of nature and steel."
The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority has been funding projects to implement the Marquette Plan goal of reclaiming the Lake Michigan shoreline for public use.
The RDA would likely be involved in making the bridge a reality. Dillon has already broached the subject with RDA President Bill Hanna, who seems to support the idea.
"We want to see the next phase be about connectivity," Hanna said. "The lakefront projects are supposed to drive economic and other activity. That's the Marquette Plan's vision."
A.J. Monroe, Portage's director of public works, said for the bridge to span U.S. 12,* Ind. 249 and Burns Ditch, it would have to be three miles long -- five times as long as the Bob Kerry bridge.
That could be a challenge, but not a barrier. After all, we're talking about building a bridge not just as a physical presence but also as a metaphor.
Northwest Indiana must build a bridge, in a sense, to the new era. Here's a chance to do so.
Dillon said the bridge itself could become a tourist attraction. Northwest Indiana is learning how to build attractive bridges, and this project would build on it.
It would be a good focal point for the Marquette Plan, a draw for visitors, and would connect hiking and biking trails severed by highways and a major waterway.
It's too soon to give up. Keep working on this project.
* This editorial has been changed from the original to correctly reflect the roads over which the bridge would go.