HYDE PARK — The main pedestrian bridge connecting the east and western halves of Jackson Park will be rebuilt in 2019 after a two-year search for funding.
Chicago Department of Transportation officials came to the park field house, 6401 S. Stony Island Ave., Tuesday and said they have the $6 million needed to repair the 122-year-old bridge, which has been closed since 2015.
“I have funds, it’s not a pipe dream,” said CDOT Project Manager Tanera Adams. “For literally two years I was applying for grants.”
CDOT is now in the planning stages and close to looking for a contractor to design the new bridge, which will closely resemble the current historic bridge, which was built in 1895 just after the close of the 1893 Columbian Exposition to replace a bridge from the fair.
During the fair the bridge, as today, was the main way to get from the east side of the park to the west without going all the way around the interconnected lagoons. It was also the spot to board the gondolas to boat through the lagoons.
The walkway under the bridge for the gondolas was never removed and became a popular fishing spot during the park's better days and a shelter for the homeless during its darker days.
“What aided in the bridge falling apart is people building fires under there,” Adams said.
She said it’s unlikely the area under the bridge will be retained unless people specifically ask for it.
The bridge was closed to pedestrians in 2015 and had already been closed to cars since 2009. The bridge will remain closed to cars, but will be built so its strong enough allow emergency vehicles to get across.
The physical dimensions of the bridge won’t change. It will remain 56 feet wide by 56 feet across.
Adams said the limestone footers may be replaced with a cast concrete meant to mimic the texture of stone, but it remains unclear what state regulators will require.
She said the delay in finding funding was because the bridge doesn’t go anywhere and there aren’t many government grants that will fund a bridge that doesn’t connect roadways or span an otherwise unpassable landscape.
Adams said once the Chicago Park District stepped in they were able to get the funds for the bridge as part of a funding package that will also fund repairs to the walking paths connecting Stony Island Avenue and the lakefront.
The bridge is named for Clarence Darrow, the famed attorney of the Scopes monkey trial and the Leopold and Loeb thrill-kill trial, because he reportedly told a spiritualist that he would appear at the bridge as a ghost if he discovered after his death that his skepticism was unfounded and ghosts were indeed real.