By TONIA HILL
Restoration of the Columbia Bridge or the Clarence Darrow Memorial Bridge that is situated over Jackson Park Lagoon is expected to begin in 2019.
Representatives from the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) presented information on progress towards the restoration of the Columbia Bridge at the Jackson Park Fieldhouse, 6401 S. Stony Island Ave., on Tuesday, Aug. 22.
The bridge, which is in Jackson Park located at the rear of the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) 5700 S. Lake Shore Dr., has been closed since 2015.
Presently, the project is in phase one, which includes preliminary engineering, environmental studies, and bridge type of evaluation, public meetings, and a project report.
The price tag for construction is about $6 million dollars.
The bridge was built in the 1880s and was widened in 1895.
It was restored in 1942 and 1961. The overall length is 56 inches with an overall deck width of 56’-6’’ feet.
Proposed improvements include removing existing structure including limestone abatements. Abatements are structures that are built to support the pressure of water on a bridge or pier.
CDOT will maintain bridge width, length, and alignment as well as restore historic elements including bridge abutment stones and a handrail.
The plan includes lighting within bridge limits and rehabilitating the path between Stony Island Avenue and Lake Shore Drive.
The bridge is 100 plus years old and to maintain the work that will be done over the next few years Tanera Adams project manager at CDOT is recommending that the walkway under the bridge be closed off.
Some use the area to fish and light fires in the colder months.
“What aided in this bridge falling apart is the fact that people were setting fires under [the bridge]. No matter how much we try and close off access people will [find a way] open it,” said Adams adding that input from the community is needed to decide on whether or not it would be kept open.
The walkway underneath the bridge aided pedestrians getting to the other side of the basin. It was also an area that was used during the World’s Columbian Fair that was hosted in Jackson Park for gondola rides.
For a time the bridge was open to cars, but it was closed to vehicle traffic in 2009.
The bridge will only be used for pedestrian traffic and open to emergency vehicle use.
Funding for the phases of the project has been difficult said Adams, monies were secured for the first two phases — 80 percent of was paid for by the state — but not the last, according to a previous article in the Herald.
It took two years to secure funds for the entire length of the project. Adams said she had applied to numerous grants but was unsuccessful. She explained that the reason was that of the bridge’s location and it that it does not connect to a roadway.
Adams with assistance from the Chicago Park District was able to receive funding for the project successfully. In addition to bridge restoration, the city will also update the pedestrian paths from Stony Island Avenue to the lakefront.
Louise McCurry, president of the Jackson Park Advisory Council, said they approached the CDOT seven years ago to repair the bridge.
“We can finally take our tours and our people across the bridge and to our workdays on Wooded Island,” said McCurry.
The bridge closure has forced park goers to cut across the park.
Adams said next steps include presenting the plans to the state historic preservation agency.
Next year, CDOT expects to prepare for a contract for the project and construction is slated to begin in 2019.