Vice President Kamala Harris visits the Southeast Side of Chicago to talk about infrastructure on Jan. 4, 2023. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

EAST SIDE — Four bridges crossing the Calumet River on the Southeast Side will be restored using $144 million in federal funding, officials announced Wednesday with Vice President Kamala Harris.

The 92nd Street-Ewing Avenue, 95th Street, 100th Street and 106th Street bridges over the Calumet River will be rehabilitated using a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bridge Investment Program, officials said.

The money will be used toward a $302 million project to repair the “aging” bridges, improve sidewalks — including filling a more than half-mile sidewalk gap on the sides of the 100th Street bridge — and install bike lanes on each bridge, leaders said.

Work is expected to begin in early 2024 on the 92nd Street bridge and finish in early 2027 with the completion of the 106th Street bridge.

Construction schedules for the bridges will be staggered, though crews will work simultaneously on all four bridges for a stretch in mid-2025 and will work simultaneously on at least three from mid-2025 to early 2026, according to the project schedule.

Industry is seen near the Calumet River is seen from the 92nd Street-Ewing Avenue Bridge on Jan. 4, 2023. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

The 92nd, 95th and 106th Street bridges are in poor condition, while the 100th Street bridge is in serious condition, according to the city transportation department’s grant application. Each bridge was last rehabbed in the ’90s, when they received minor repairs.

Bridges in poor condition are in an “advanced” state of deterioration, while serious condition means parts of the bridge are at risk of failure, according to federal guidelines.

“The engineers and experts have taken a look at these [bridges] and say we’re living on borrowed time,” Sen. Dick Durbin said at Wednesday’s news conference near the 95th Street bridge at Crowley’s Yacht Yard, 3434 E. 95th St. “These bridges and 2,000 more like them across the state of Illinois need help and need it now.”

The bridge rehabilitation will replace the original steel with stronger steel, replace mechanical and electric systems that raise and lower the bridges, use prefabricated sections and incorporate aspects of the original bridges that can survive another 50 years, according to the city’s transportation department.

The bike lanes will be unprotected, though the city’s transportation department will consider installing barrier-separated bike lanes on the approaches and flex posts on the bridges “as space permits,” officials said.

The 92nd Street-Ewing Avenue Bridge that connects South Chicago and East Side over the Calumet River is seen on Jan. 4, 2023. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

The four bascule bridges are each raised about 5,000 times annually, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.

The bridges are lifted to allow freight ships access to the Illinois International Port District and the numerous industrial facilities along the river.

“Millions of Americans who have never heard of [the 95th Street] bridge and will never cross it rely on products like meat and eggs that cargo ships bring [under] it, or drive a Ford car whose parts pass through here and was built by [United Auto Workers Local] 551,” Harris said. “These products are made in America. This bridge is how they are delivered to America.”

The bridges also link the East Side neighborhood to points north and west, carrying a combined daily average of more than 40,000 vehicles, Lightfoot said.

“They are an important part of Chicago’s history and must be modernized to ensure that they can meet the demands of today,” Lightfoot said.

The Bridge Investment Program was created through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed by President Joe Biden in 2021.

More than $2 billion will be spent through the federal bridge program to upgrade “economically significant bridges across the country” like the Calumet River crossings, officials said.

The 1980 film “The Blues Brothers” features a scene in which main characters Jake and Elwood jump the 95th Street bridge in their “Bluesmobile.” Harris visited Calumet Fisheries, the famed seafood smokehouse at the west end of the same bridge, for lunch following the press conference.

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