EAST CHICAGO | The expected completion of a pair of high-profile public works projects this summer in East Chicago marks the beginning of an intensive citywide improvement plan.
An overpass supporting four lanes of Railroad Avenue traffic over the busy CSX Corp. tracks just north of Chicago Avenue downtown is scheduled to open in August.
The $9 million project, which is 80 percent federally funded, will be the only non-grade crossing of the double CSX line anywhere in East Chicago or Hammond.
About the same time, the city's new state-of-the-art $55 million water filtration plant in the North Harbor area should go online, producing 17 million gallons per day of microfilter-purified Lake Michigan's finest.
Five years in the making, the facility will put out far more water than city residents and industries need, Mayor Anthony Copeland said, enough to provide service to other communities at a profit.
"This was an expensive project," Copeland said. "We could use an additional revenue stream to help pay for it."
Demolition of the old waterworks will free up 10 acres of lakefront property as part of a new project to extend public access from the East Chicago Marina all the way to Buffington Harbor in Gary, Copeland said.
Discussions with Ameristar Casino and local industries are ongoing to open another 30 to 50 acres of prime lakefront to the public, Copeland said, through partnership with the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.
Construction of new housing near the lake in North Harbor is also continuing, with single-family homes overlooking Nunez Park to complement the 125 townhomes built around the Main Street-Broadway corridor.
Plans for the new houses have been adjusted by developers Hispanic Housing Development Corp. of Chicago and Boston-based The Community Builders Inc. at city request, Copeland said, widening lot sizes to 52 feet for the addition of attached garages and larger yards.
Housing citywide is being improved through federal stimulus funds. Copeland said former rental properties lost through foreclosure are being fixed up with housing and redevelopment programs to help residents become homeowners.
Work on a new four-story senior citizen facility on Broadway near Callahan Park for older residents who no longer need their private homes is scheduled to begin this spring.
Plans call for 56 one-bedroom apartments, most with balconies and all with in-unit washers and dryers. A ground-floor public parking garage will accommodate the expected increase in commercial development around the area.
Overall, Copeland said he's upbeat about all of the potential in the new projects.
"It's a stability issue," he said. "Once we have resolved the city's credibility problem, local, state and federal officials say they're ready to help, and more opportunities will open."