IDOT director helps cut the ribbon on $27.4 million project
Tuesday, they cut the ribbon on Utica’s new Route 178 bridge. Wednesday, motorists will get to drive over it.
The Illinois Department of Transportation had promised the switchover — that is, moving traffic from old bridge to new — the first full week of October and the agency made good on that promise. Tuesday, acting IDOT Director Omer Osman oversaw a ribbon-cutting ceremony and announced the new bridge would be open to traffic Oct. 7.
With construction of $27.4 million project nearing completion, “We have enhanced the quality of life in one of Illinois’ great regions,” Osman said, citing the improved access to Starved Rock and Matthiessen state parks.
Past and present Utica officials rejoiced because the old bridge, constructed in 1962, was failing and the new one includes features for which the village chipped in. Mayor David Stewart heaped praise on workers and the nearly-finished project.
“They did tremendous work,” Stewart said. “The bridge looks excellent.”
The primary enhancement was the addition of a shared-use path that will permit pedestrians and cyclists to cross the river with a concrete barrier separating them from the vehicular traffic.
State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) said the project would spur another long-sought-after improvement: Fixing portions of the Illinois and Michigan Canal towpath. With pedestrian and cyclist access now available from Utica to the state parks, Rezin said, the next logical step would be to improve access along the towpath from adjacent cities.
“I’m going to lower my mask,” Rezin said as she ascended a podium placed at the peak point of the bridge, “so people can see I’m smiling this bridge is finally finished.”
Construction began in 2017 and village officials repeatedly credited IDOT for keeping the project minimally disruptive and for persevering even after weather impeded construction. Rain and flooding had workers at the job site nearly to Christmas last year, but state Rep. Lance Yednock (D-Ottawa) was among those who said the finished product was worth the wait.
“I’ve looked forward to this for a long time,” he said.
Access to Starved Rock and Matthiessen should be a boon for Utica, which is why successive mayors and village boards championed the project and pressed for the shared use path. Former Mayor Matt Jereb was on hand for the ribbon cutting and gushed about its potential for Utica tourism.
“I think it’s going to be a great access point for visitors as well of the people of Utica to be able to access the state park from downtown,” Jereb said. “It will also provide an opportunity for economic growth in the downtown.”
The bridge also includes 10-foot shoulders to ensure access for emergency vehicles, no small consideration for Utica first-responders who frequently are summoned to Starved Rock for trail accidents and falls.
Emergency access is never far from anybody’s mind in Utica because Starved Rock has had a record-shattering summer and the tourist onslaught shows no signs of slowing. Despite the extended spring closure at the outset of the pandemic, Starved Rock has now set records in three of the past four months and is on pace for just more than 2.3 million visitors in 2020.
The project won’t technically be finished until weeks after the switchover — IDOT previously said crews will be working into early winter — and demolition of the old bridge is loosely set for some time during winter 2020-21.