BRONZEVILLE — A rusting and dilapidated pedestrian bridge straddling Lake Shore Drive that "locked out" neighborhood residents from the lakefront is now closed, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Sunday said its replacement — a glittering $23 million project — stands as proof of the city's reinvestment in Bronzeville.
Emanuel, joined by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Ald. Will Burns (4th), showed off plans for a new pedestrian bridge that will connect Bronzeville to the lakefront.
Speaking in front of the old bridge, Emanuel said it was a community eyesore, and the new bridge would be a much more welcoming sign to the community.
"It’s like night and day. It’s yesterday and tomorrow," he said, comparing the new plans just feet away from the dilapidated bridge. "You got one [bridge] where you avert your eyes, and you got one that will now attract your eyes. It’s that simple. This is welcoming because it’s futuristic from an architectural stand point."
The old bridge forced residents to travel to 31st Street or 39th Street to reach the lakefront and was seen as unwelcoming, he said.
"You have a community that’s been locked away and locked out of our great lakefront, and now this is going to be an expansion from Bronzeville into the lakefront," the mayor said before the news conference Sunday afternoon. "[After] 15 years of discussions, 15 years of talking, we’re finally going to put shovels to ground."
The project received $18 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation and an additional $5 million from the State of Illinois.
"It's going to be a new day, and that decrepit, rusty, old, fallen-down bridge I hope will be [like] in the last scene of the "Bridge on the River Kwai," coming on down safely and replaced by this magnificent structure here, which is not only going to be functional, but is also going to say a lot about this great city and about this great lake," Durbin said.
Durbin dubbed the lakefront the "heart and soul" of the city, adding that the more time families can spend at the lake the better they feel about their experience in Chicago.
The bridge, which will be fully accessible to the disabled, will be built by James McHugh Construction Co. and Araiza Corporation. Features will include new plazas on each end, landscaping, drainage, lighting and traffic safety improvements. The bridge also will illuminate the lakefront using LED lights in the handrails, along the suspension cables and on the center pylon, according to a news release.
Burns touted the project as not just a bridge, but "a new entryway to the South Side of Chicago."
"[The old bridge] doesn't say this is a place where you should invest your money, where you should live. This new pedestrian bridge will say that. It will make a great statement about all the great things that are happening here in the 4th Ward and here in the South Side of Chicago," Burns said.
Emanuel touted recent developments in Bronzeville, including $1.85 billion in public and private investments since 2013. Those investments include the Artist Lofts, a development with housing and an art incubator, the Shops & Lofts at 47, a mixed-use and mixed-income housing and retail project, a new Mariano's and the rehabilitation of the Rosenwald Courts Apartment Complex.
The bridge, along with the other projects, are "another reinforcement into the strength of the Bronzeville community," Emanuel said.
There are more projects to come, he said.
"We’re building a new arts community Park District facility with a swimming pool in it and all the amenities of a major Park District facility like Chinatown has, like Beverly has, we’re now putting that in Bronzeville," he said, adding construction should begin in about two months.
While he was silent on whether the bridge will help bring President Barack Obama's presidential library to the South Side community, he said it should be seen as an additional investment that strengthens the neighborhood and "makes it the type of neighborhood that it has always been for the families and the communities."
The new bridge is expected to open in October 2015; the existing bridge is awaiting demolition in the next few weeks.
During construction, traffic will be forced into one lane in each direction and one sidewalk on 35th Street from Cottage Grove Avenue to Lake Park Avenue, as the stretch from Cottage Grove to Lake Park is repaved.
Lake Park from 35th Street to 36th Street also will be repaved.
Pedestrians can access the lakefront trail from Oakwood Boulevard.
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