HAMMOND | The condemned span of the Cline Avenue Bridge will not be rebuilt, Indiana Department of Transportation officials said Thursday during a news conference at Purdue University Calumet.
Instead, state officials said the plan would demolish an elevated span over the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal that was permanently closed to vehicles Dec. 28. A combination of Dickey Road, Riley Road and Michigan Avenue would be used to route traffic across the canal and back to Cline Avenue.
The plan will close a chapter in the history of the bridge, which opened to traffic in 1983.
INDOT Chief of Staff Bob Zier said demolishing the bridge is very important for safety because officials don't want a disaster like the 2007 collapse of the Interstate 35W Bridge in Minneapolis that killed 13 people and injured 145.
"If we don't, it's going to fall," Zier said.
Zier said the project's cost would be more than $75 million. When asked about how much building another bridge would cost, he said the total would be "astronomical."
He also said Gov. Mitch Daniels supports INDOT's plan and bid letting would begin soon.
The state expects about 2,300 jobs to be created over the next three years with this project.
On Dec. 28, INDOT officials said the stretch of Cline Avenue between Michigan and Calumet avenues would not reopen to traffic amid concerns about the span's structural integrity. The bridge span was closed temporarily Nov. 13 after inspections and consulting with engineers found structural deficiencies.
After the permanent closure was announced, a group of region mayors, businesses and unions lobbied the state to rebuild the 1.2-mile span.
INDOT pitched a sneak preview of the plan Thursday morning to local politicians and business leaders at Ameristar Casino in East Chicago. An invitation was extended to The Times to attend the event, but officials decided to reverse course and closed the initial meeting to the press. No immediate reason was given.
According to the plan, beginning this summer, work would:
- Rehabilitate the westbound ramp from Riley Road to Cline.
- Allow alternating one-way traffic, controlled by traffic signals, to enter and exit Cline Avenue at Riley Road.
- Build temporary ramps.
- Allow eastbound and westbound Cline Avenue to exit onto Michigan Avenue.
Between fall 2010 and fall 2011, crews would:
- Demolish the Cline Avenue mainline span and ramps near Riley Road to make way for a new exit ramp from Cline Avenue to Riley Road.
- Remove the alternating traffic pattern upon completion.
Between summer 2011 and summer 2012, crews would:
- Construct a four-lane ramp to provide access to Dickey Road from Cline Avenue and exit from Dickey Road to Cline Avenue east.
Between summer 2012 and summer 2013, crews would:
- Demolish remaining sections of the Cline Avenue Bridge over Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal.
The plan was met with mixed reviews.
State Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, opposed the plan, saying it could hurt Northwest Indiana business, and ultimately the state.
Randolph, defending a coalition of mayors from Hammond, East Chicago, Gary and Whiting, told Zier during Thursday's news conference that it didn't seem as if the region had a voice in what the state was proposing.
Zier said the plan already had the support of East Chicago Mayor George Pabey and Whiting Mayor Joseph Stahura. Zier also said INDOT has spoken with legislators, businesses and community stakeholders.
When Randolph asked Zier about Hammond or Gary, Zier said the plan doesn't affect those cities.
Randolph disagreed and said he felt as if his comments were being ignored. He also told Randolph to wait to give his comments to a meeting with legislators after the news conference.
"With deference to your position, we don't need agreement from you, sir," Zier said.
Citing stubbornly high unemployment among workers in building trades, labor leader Randy Palmateer said any plan that would get workers on the ground soon would be beneficial. Fighting the plan would be a gamble and could delay any action, he added.
"We can put my workers to work in two months as opposed to throwing the dice and waiting on another governor," said Palmateer, business manager for the Northwestern Indiana Building and Construction Trades Council.
Mark Maassel, interim president of the Northwest Indiana Forum, said the plan works well for the industries and for region improvement. He said the state's plan allows Northwest Indiana leaders to look at new and exciting things to supplement the project.
"There's no question it will be different than it was six months ago," Maassel said. "It's different, but it doesn't necessarily mean it's worse."
Plans unveiled Thursday also showed potential locations for parks, trees to line Riley Road, and a "floating garden" art installation near the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal.
Angie Fegaras, spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Transportation, said the state was trying to show some suggestions for "out of the box" ideas and plans for greenspaces associated with the construction project. She said money hasn't been allocated for those ideas, but the ideas could help community leaders figure out how they could improve the landscape and then seek grants for those efforts.
Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. isn't supporting the technical aspects of the plan or INDOT's green ideas.
"They're trying to sell it with trees and feel-good projects like algae generators," McDermott said. "Why don't you skip the trees and algae generators and build our bridge?"