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A new Cline Avenue Bridge is rising in East Chicago, with more than a third of 29 piers in place that will carry traffic 100 feet above the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal, and with the casting of surface segments well underway in a building erected for that purpose at the bridge's Riley Road headquarters.

The privately owned toll-bridge is scheduled to open to traffic in January 2020.

"The project is moving along — it's on schedule," said Terry Velligan, the bridge's general manager of operations, on Tuesday. Normally 168 workers are on-site each day, he said.

Velligan works for United Bridge Partners, a consortium of Figg Bridge Group, the designer and construction manager, and American Infrastructure Funds, the financier.

Construction began a year ago, beneath ground level. Steel pilings were driven to bedrock; 16 of those pilings are connected by a cage of rebar to each concrete pier.

The concrete is poured into forms at each pier site. It's poured in segments starting with the footing and culminating with the Y-shaped top that will support 40-foot wide bridge segments. 

The 29 piers include abutments connecting the bridge to the existing Cline Avenue at each end of the bridge. Piers in the canal itself have been deemed safe for continued use.

Trucks from Smith Ready Mix are delivering concrete continuously, both for the piers and bridge segments. About 33,000 cubic yards of cement are expected to be needed for the project.

The segments will accommodate two lanes of traffic and two shoulders, and be about 10 feet long each. More than 600 will be cast for the 1.7-mile bridge. Each segment is numbered for its place on the bridge, to account for the grade of elevation and the curvature of the bridge on each side of the canal. The segments, each weighing about 85,000 pounds, will be put in place by crane.

"The plan is to start erecting them in the next couple months," Velligan said.

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An artist rendering of future Cline Avenue bridge
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An artist rendering of future Cline Avenue bridge
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An artist rendering of future Cline Avenue bridge
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An artist rendering of future Cline Avenue bridge
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An artist rendering of future Cline Avenue bridge

North Lake link

The bridge's western end is just west of Riley Road. It extends across the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal — which connects the Grand Calumet River to Lake Michigan — to Dickey Road. 

The new bridge will reestablish a route between the Indiana Toll Road and Interstate 80/94 that provides easier access to major industries, casinos and the the Gary/Chicago International Airport, along with the expanding recreational opportunities along the lakeshore.

The original Cline Avenue Bridge was closed in 2009 by the state, which determined the structure had been weakened by corrosion to the point it was no longer safe. Over the objections of many local elected officials, by 2010 the state had made clear it would not rebuild the bridge, and its demolition was completed in early 2013.

In 2012, then-Gov. Mitch Daniels and East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland announced agreements for a privately owned and operated toll bridge to be built. After several fits-and-starts, United Bridge Partners began construction last July. An operations building on Riley Road had been completed shortly before then.

The project gained extra attention from East Chicago officials earlier this year after the collapse of a bridge under construction at Florida International University in Miami. Figg Bridge Group is involved in that project, and the East Chicago City Council passed a resolution in March asking for a safety review of the local project in light of the Florida collapse.

In May, the city's attorney reported that the Cline Avenue Bridge's design had been reviewed by a separate design team prior to construction, including 30 local union contractors and suppliers working on the project.

Carrying profits

Velligan said the bridge will undergo annual safety inspections once complete, with a major inspection done biennially. It is being constructed with an estimated 150-year lifespan.

The project's cost was estimated at $140 million as it got underway last year. Company officials have said the toll for an automobile will be in the $2.25 to $2.50 range using an electronic transponder, with an open-road toll monitor at the western end of the bridge. 

Ten cents of each toll will go to the city of East Chicago for its infrastructure needs.

Velligan will remain as general manager once the bridge is open to traffic. He and a staff will manage bridge operations out of the office building on Riley Road that's currently serving as construction headquarters.


Gallery: Cline Avenue Bridge construction project

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Transportation reporter

Andrew covers transportation, real estate, casinos and other topics for The Times business section. A Crown Point native, he joined The Times in 2014, and has more than 15 years experience as a reporter and editor at Region newspapers.