Riding on a weekend in Blue Island, 22-year-old resident Taylor Morey scrambles to find an alternate route to get to work because of the most recent bridge closure on Francisco St. in Blue Island.
“It’s honestly a very big inconvenience,” Morey said.
Blue Island, a city that is split by the Cal Sag Channel, once had many access points to either side of the canal but with a lack of money its resulted in three of these bridges to be closed.
The area around these bridges could be described as deserted, unmaintained, or depressed due to these closures. But there are still residents in these areas that continue their daily routine just with more of a hassle.
“I understand expanding our police effort but the people of Blue Island have to suffer with more traffic and time consuming travel to get where they want to go,” Morey said. “My 20-minute commute to work, is now 30 minutes or more with the Francisco St Bridge closed.”
With residents unaware why the bridges are closed, some believe it’s to help the police effort. Other Residents wonder why Blue Island doesn’t have the funds for these bridges.
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“The city is located on a six-mile-long glacial ridge that also runs through Chicago’s Beverly and Morgan Park neighborhoods from 87th Street to 130th Street. Back when the region was covered by ancient “Lake Chicago,” the precursor to Lake Michigan, this land was literally an island. “After the lake receded, black oaks grew on the ridge, and early settlers thought it looked like a blue island standing in the prairie,”
The town of Blue Island was founded in 1835 as a way station for travelers along the Vincennes Trail, now Vincennes Avenue, from southwest Indiana to Chicago. In the 1860s Healy’s mother’s family came to Blue Island from Germany as part of a wave of German immigration that lead to four breweries being founded here, and the beer industry continued here until Prohibition.
“With the cost of the new city stickers you’d think the bridges would get fixed,” said Salvador Aguirre, 47, who lives closest to the Francisco St Bridge. “The recent closer really affects me, I have to drive a lot more just to get from point A to point B,” Aguirre said. This year the city of Blue Island raised the price of city stickers from $30 to $50.
On a recent afternoon, the area around the Chatham St Bridge seemed very unmanaged and dirty. With the Louis S. Vivevito Side stream elevated pool aeration station right next to the bridge along with the Metra station just one block down you would think it makes for a very nice outdoor preservation. But instead it’s filled with garbage, uncut grass and bushes, and many sleeping homeless. With the bridge closed it seems that Blue Island has forgot to keep up with their positive image near these neglected bridges. Resident Gianna Valdez, 22, agreed that Blue Island makes itself look worse due to these closures.
“In general with all these closed bridges it just makes Blue Island not seem as a nice town, it just doesn’t look nice when you have bridges shut down,” Valdez said.
The closing of bridges in Blue Island isn’t something new to residents. For 5 years the Chatham and Division Street bridges have been closed, which connected key north-south access routes for resident and potential consumers. In April the Chatham St Bridge was closed to all foot and bike traffic due to the bridges unreliability, leaving no use for the bridge.
On June 23, the most recent bridge was closed on Francisco Street leaving half the bridges in the city closed due to lack of maintenance. This latest closure leaves it much harder for neighboring towns such as Robbins and Crestwood to enter the city as well as making it harder for residents to leave the city. If you try and snake around the closed bridges in Blue Island, you’re likely to get stuck waiting on a train.
Morey agreed that the only other way to get around the closed bridges is going over the train tracks and there’s “ALWAYS” a train she explained. Before construction began on the Francisco St Bridge, the city put out a newsletter stating that the bridge will be closed for 60 days for exterior issues.
Some residents think the bridge will be closed longer than 60 days for construction.
Resident Juan Hernandez, 27, who lives right down the street from the Chatham St Bridge, said he doesn’t expect the Francisco St Bridge to reopen.
“It was like that with both the other bridges, they first said it was a temporary closure and it would be back open in three months then five years later, its still closed,” Hernandez said. “I just wish the city would keep up with maintenance so they don’t have to keep opening and closing the bridges here.”
[pullquote]Blue Island is the only municipality in the state of Illinois that owns two bridges across a body of water (Chatham, Division St Bridges) making it much harder to receive money from the state to begin construction on the bridges. Municipality is a city or town that has its own government to deal with local problems. Since these bridges are not owned by the state, Blue Island is responsible for repairing them.[/pullquote]
State Rep. Robert Rita, D-Blue Island, said the Illinois Department of Transportation has approved a $500,000 grant to get the Division Street Bridge open in 18 months. Chairman of the Finance Committee for the City of Blue Island, Nancy Rita, said part two of a three-phase project will be paid for through this grant.
“Phase II engineering is being paid through a state grant of $500,000 which was awarded early this year from State Rep. Bob Rita. Phase II engineering is on target and to be completed early next year,” Rita said.
On the south end of the deserted Division Street Bridge is a fire station that has had to find alternate routes, this is one reason this bridge would be the first to receive maintenance. Rita and members of her committee and the mayor have worked together to help come up with a bridge replacement plan.
“While working with Mayor Vargas and the Finance Committee members I was able to start the replacement of the Division Street Bridge at a total cost of $7.5 million. We have completed Phase I engineering consisting of an environmental impact study and surveying,” Rita said.
With the bridge replacements costing so much to the city Nancy Rita as chairman has done many things to help get the rest of repairs paid for so work can begin.
“In the spring of 2015 construction will start with a target completion in the fall of 2015. 80 percent funding for the Phase III construction will be paid from an Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) bridge grant federally funded through the state and the remaining 20 percent will be paid by the City of Blue Island TIF funds (tax increment financing). The TIF funding is a direct result of me being chairman of the finance committee,” Rita said.