Cline Avenue Bridge to be rebuilt as toll road

$2 toll could shock some motorists

May 16, 2012

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(WBEZ/Shawn Allee)
Access to the Cline Avenue Bridge in East Chicago has been restricted since November 2009. A new bridge will replace it but motorists will have to pay a toll to access it.

The Cline Avenue Bridge in Northwest Indiana was abruptly shut down in November 2009 after the state Department of Transportation deemed it unsafe.

The closure of the bridge caused headaches for motorists, especially truckers who used it for quick access to industrial plants in northern Lake County. The diverted traffic has since spilled onto city streets in Hammond and East Chicago, cities just beyond Chicago’s southeast city limits.

East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland announced a plan with state officials Wednesday to rebuild the 1.3-mile bridge using private funds.

“When the bridge shut down, we just had a mess. We had tons and tons of vehicles coming inside our city,” Copeland told WBEZ. “How do you deal with this? That was the major issue here.”

With no public funding available, state and local officials have been negotiating for more than a year to find alternative funding. The City of Chicago’s Department of Aviation even pushed the state of Indiana to find a solution so that its investment in the nearby Gary-Chicago International Airport would be worthwhile.

Copeland said the solution is to allow the Florida-based firm United Bridge Partners to rebuild the bridge at a cost of $150 million to $250 million. The price range has to do with how much of the steel beams from the current structure can be saved.

“This is a solution worth waiting for and the State of Indiana is glad to be a partner to the agreement,” Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said in a written statement. “This is a creative move by Mayor Copeland and the City of East Chicago that will be beneficial to Northwest Indiana and puts Indiana further in front as a leader in private sector infrastructure investment.”

Although a final toll amount hasn’t been set, Copeland said the company estimates it will be about 15 cents to 20 cents per $1 million financed. That could mean a toll of $2 to $2.50, he said. 

A toll that high would rival that of the nearby Chicago Skyway at $3.50.

Discounts could be had when motorists use a transponder, Copeland said. And an open-road tolling system, similar to that on Interstate 294 through Cook County, is expected to be used.

Copeland believes motorists will pay the toll to get to places like the BP Refinery in Whiting, ArcelorMittal Steel and Ameristar Casino in East Chicago and Majestic Star Casino in Gary, or for quicker access to downtown Chicago coming from the east.

“Whenever it comes to tolls, people are paying for convenience. So now when you look at the price of gas, so then are you really saving when you serpentine around through the city? No. I think it kind of balances itself out,” Copeland said. “But you always have that alternative route.”

United Bridge Partners will be joined in the venture with FIGG Bridge Companies, Lane Construction Corp. and American Infrastructure MLP funds.

Copeland added United Bridge Partners has built some of the most beautiful bridges in the world. He says he’s expecting something great to replace the old concrete and steel bridge.

The old Cline Avenue Bridge is now being demolished, and explosives could bring down the largest sections. The old bridge was used in the filming of Transformers: Dark of the Moon.