The toll bridge to be built at Cline Avenue isn't as good as a free bridge, but at least it's going to be built, assuming the financing is all in order.
The Cline Avenue bridge will connect Northwest Indiana and Chicago, bringing workers and customers to major employers on both ends of the bridge.
The final agreements have been signed, according to United Bridge Partners, the consortium that will build the bridge with private money in exchange for the right to collect tolls. Partners in the consortium are FIGG Bridge Cos., Lane Construction Corp. and American Infrastructure MLP Funds.
One of those agreements gives East Chicago 10 cents per toll, which provides welcome revenue for the city.
While the Indiana Department of Transportation continues demolition of the old bridge -- shut down Nov. 14, 2009, because it was deemed unsafe -- United Bridge Partners is doing land surveys and seeking the necessary permits. Once the final permits are granted, the construction is expected to take 24 to 30 months.
The bridge has been a long time coming. The process of replacing the soaring bridge has brought several emotional highs and lows.
First Gov. Mitch Daniels stood on the old bridge and promised it would be replaced. Then INDOT said it would be pricey -- around $150 million -- to rebuild the bridge. On April 15, 2010, INDOT said it would construct a permanent detour instead of rebuilding the bridge.
In March 2011, Ameristar Casino announced plans to donate "somewhere north" of $10 million to rebuild the bridge. Ameristar's receipts fell when the bridge closure made it more difficult for gamblers from Chicago to get to the casino. In June 2011, Ameristar told state gaming regulators than it planned to spend up to $35 million to rebuild the bridge. A month later, INDOT announced it would go with the "non-bridge" option of a permanent detour.
In August 2011, Daniels revealed the state was negotiating with a private company that wanted to build a private toll bridge. In May, Daniels and East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland announced agreements to build the private toll bridge.
Meanwhile, INDOT is building several bridges in the Indianapolis area at which no tolls will be collected.
It's difficult to get past the feeling that if the Cline Avenue bridge were in the Hoosier Holy Land, it would have been rebuilt by now, and that there would be no tolls on it. Only in Indiana's border counties are tolls collected on roads or bridges.
But we look forward to seeing this vital piece of Northwest Indiana's transportation infrastructure replaced. We'll be happier when the new bridge opens.