Residents of Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood love the lakefront as much as any other Chicagoans, and yesterday it became a lot easier for them to access the shoreline. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, and local alderman Sophia King unveiled the new 41st Street bike and pedestrian bridge, an S-shaped 1,470-foot span that extends across commuter rail tracks and Lake Shore Drive. It connects Park Crescent, 348 new units of mixed-income housing developed by the Chicago Housing Authority, and its neighboring park with the Oakwood/41st Street Beach, which was recently created as part of Lake Michigan shoreline revetment reconstruction.
The $33 million 41st Street bridge is the second of five bike-ped bridge projects announced by Emanuel to improve access to the lakefront on the South Side. A similarly serpentine bridge opened at 35th Street in November 2016, replacing a rusting, non-wheelchair-accessible bridge. A third project, starting in 2019, will replace the existing, run-down, non-ADA-compliant bridge at 43rd Street. It features a similar design as the 41st Street Bridge. Both structures are designed by AECOM with Cordogan, Clark & Associates. The inclined arch mono-truss structures hold up large S-curves, that city officials say were designed to echo the curves of walkways along the lakefront in Burnham Park.
In addition, a bridge for motorized vehicles over the railroad tracks at Oakwood Boulevard/39th Street is currently under reconstruction and slated for completion in mid-2019. Plans are being finalized for a fifth project to replace the bridge over the railroad tracks at 31st Street, scheduled to start next year.
During yesterday’s ribbon-cutting, Emanuel told Bronzeville locals that “For far too long, residents of this community could see the lakefront, but they couldn’t easily reach it. This new bridge connects Bronzeville residents to our lakefront and the new 41st Street beach and it builds on the great energy we are seeing thanks to the investments that we have made in this community.” The mayor also gave a shout-out to Durbin for helping to secure an $18.76 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation for the project. “We couldn’t do this if we didn’t have a senator to bring home the bacon. That’s a big leap for a Jewish kid to say.”
The rest of the funding came from other state and federal sources. In spring 2017 the project was temporarily stalled by the Illinois Department of Transportation balking at chipping in an additional $2 million for the project after the lowest construction bid was nearly 24 percent higher than expected. Construction finally began in June 2017 after IDOT released the funding.
After Emanuel spoke, Durbin discussed the significance of the project, noting that a survey once found that Chicagoans view Lake Michigan as the single most defining thing about the city. “This is our Yosemite, this is our Grand Canyon, this is our natural resource, and we appreciate it every single day,” he said. “If you look out on this beautiful lake, and we all have, you see the beautiful sunrise in the morning and its a wonderful thing. But if just looking at it is all you can do, you’re not getting the best of the lake. If you can walk along that lake, if you can bicycle along that lake, if you can dip your toes in the water, its a living lake… Now, with this bridge, it’s a living lake, for you, your family and your community. The federal tax dollars that you sent to Washington came home for your bridge.”
Take a virtual ride on the new 41st Street Bridge via this video shot by local bike advocate Jay Sebastian.
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