Chesterton Tribune

ArcelorMittal rips INDOT over scaled back Cline Avenue bridge plan

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EAST CHICAGO, Ind. (AP) — Steel giant ArcelorMittal and the Indiana Department of Transportation are at odds over a new plan to rebuild a key northwest Indiana bridge without bypassing railroad tracks where trains frequently block traffic.

The Times of Munster reported Sunday that INDOT is nearing a deal to rebuild the Cline Avenue bridge in East Chicago as a privately operated toll bridge without on- and off-ramps that skirt the railroad tracks. The state closed the bridge for safety reasons in 2009.

ArcelorMittal said the additional ramps were a “critical safety matter.”

"The decision to not include the ramp system is detrimental to the health and safety of our employees, vendors, contractors and the community members living and traveling through the corridor,” ArcelorMittal spokeswoman Mary Beth Holdford said in a statement.

The statement came on the heels of remarks by Michael Rippey, ArcelorMittal USA’s chief executive officer, to Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., and other members of the Congressional Steel Caucus in Washington urging lawmakers to make renewed investments in the nation’s infrastructure.

“All we have to do is look out our front door of one of our biggest plants, Indiana Harbor in East Chicago, Indiana, to see the costs of our failure to invest,” Rippey said.

“As Vice Chairman Visclosky knows all too well, the major highway designed to service that plant, Cline Avenue, has been closed for several years, forcing industry to divert heavy loads onto local side streets, which were never designed to serve that purpose,” Rippey said. “We face safety concerns for our workers and our neighbors, extraordinary congestion and substantial economic loss. Yet the solution eludes us.”

INDOT originally planned to build ramps to the Cline Avenue bridge ramps at an intersection with Dickey Road to get traffic over the railroad tracks, The Times reported.

INDOT confirmed the new plan does not include the additional ramps.

“East Chicago and INDOT are in negotiations with a private company to rebuild Cline Avenue as a private toll bridge,” INDOT spokeswoman Shelley Haney told The Times in an email message. “The new toll bridge will be rebuilt in the same path as the old Cline Avenue Bridge, which would preclude a new connection point to Dickey Road.”

The bridge is about to be demolished, eliminating at least temporarily what was once the busiest thoroughfare over the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal.

In April 2010, five months after the bridge’s failure, INDOT unveiled a plan for a $75 million permanent detour around the bridge using Dickey and Riley roads and including a new ramp system from Cline to Dickey, where none existed before. Under the plan, those ramps were to have been completed this summer.

At the time, INDOT said traffic on the 1.2-mile bridge before it closed did not justify the cost of building a new one at a cost of $150 million or more.

A year later, Ameristar Casino came forward with a plan to subsidize the building of a new Cline bridge and began discussions with INDOT before that plan eventually fell through.



Posted 3/26/2012