BUCKTOWN — The 100-ton Bloomingdale Trail bridge that once spanned over Ashland Avenue took a slow, but grand trip toward its new spot across Western Avenue Saturday morning, fascinating everyone from kids to the mayor.
"The minute it pulled out on Ashland, it was thrilling to watch," said Beth White, director of The Trust for Public Land's Chicago office. "The symbolism alone is in reusing an old bridge is wonderful. This is an important moment in the project."
A small group of people woke up in time for the 5:30 a.m. departure of the bridge from its location on Ashland Avenue down to North Avenue and back up on Western Avenue. The bridge was moved using the same type of slow-crawling vehicle that is used to move space shuttles when on streets.
Dozens more came with children, cameras and dogs to watch a crew of about 50 lift the bridge in place over the street.
"He just loves the big trucks," Bucktown resident Daniel Webber said of his 17-month-old son Leo who pointed at the bridge with glee.
As of 10:30 a.m., the crew still had almost positioned the bridge to the right height above Western, using a collection of wood blocks, steel beams and the 64-wheeled vehicle that brought the bridge this far.
The bridge replaces one that once was above Western Avenue and will be a part of the 2.7-mile Bloomingdale Trail park project, officially known as The 606.
Saturday's event was an important step in the project that will span four neighborhoods — Bucktown, Wicker Park, Logan Square and Humboldt Park — and reuse old railroad infrastructure, White said. This is likely the last major closure of a street for the project, she said.
"It's great we are taking something old and abandoned and creating something new for the Chicago community," said Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail member and Bucktown resident Darren Beck.
By reusing the old bridge rather than building a new one from scratch, the project saved $300,000, White said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who came bearing doughnuts and coffee from Dunkin' Donuts, also looked on with excitement, especially at the vehicle known as a self-propelled modular transporter, that travels 1 mile per hour and is controlled by someone using a joystick that Emanuel said was reminiscent of "Pac-Man."
"I don't have time for questions right now, because I want to watch," Emanuel told reporters.