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Monday, April 06, 2015

Ind. Gov't. - Car drives off the ramp to the demolished Cline Avenue bridge in East Chicago

From a March 28th story by Joseph S. Pete in the NWI Times:

The tragedy isn't the first at the Cline Avenue bridge, which collapsed during construction in 1982, killing 14 construction workers and injuring 16 more.

In 2009, it was closed after decades of heavy semi-trucks hauling steel coil out of the Indiana Harbor steel mills caused it to deteriorate. In 2010, the Indiana Department of Transportation condemned the bridge.

Then-Gov. Mitch Daniels promised to swiftly rebuild the bridge, which had served the Midwest's largest refinery and the biggest steelmaking complex in North America, and gave Chicago residents an easy route to visit casinos in East Chicago and Gary. But the state reneged after deciding a replacement bridge would be too costly.

Plans to build a privately financed toll bridge have dragged on for years. Construction of a new bridge over the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal is supposed to begin this spring.

Re the accident itself, from the same story:
EAST CHICAGO | A woman died and her husband was injured after they drove off the ramp to the demolished Cline Avenue bridge, which has been closed since 2009. * * *

Barriers block the long-gone bridge, but [Iftikhar] Hussain drove around them.

"The Cline Avenue bridge is marked with numerous barricades including orange barrels and cones, large wood signs stating ROAD CLOSED with orange striped markings," Lake County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Patricia Van Til said. "There are concrete barricades across the road to further indicate the road is closed."

The couple appears to have been on their way to visit family since they had food in the vehicle, a police investigator said. They were from Chicago and were likely unfamiliar with the area.

The driver was believed to have been following GPS navigation that told him to continue on Cline Avenue, and was apparently paying more attention to the navigation system than what was in front of him, according to a police investigator.

A story in the Times on March 31, reported by Sarah Reese, included a photo of the approach, and is headlined "Official: Cline Avenue barricades were moved before fatal crash." Some quotes:
At least one concrete barrier and one barricade sign on Cline Avenue were moved sometime before a Chicago woman died last weekend when her husband drove off a section of road leading to a demolished bridge, an official said.

Indiana Department of Transportation crews check the barricade signs and barriers in the eastbound lanes leading up to the demolished Cline Avenue Bridge at least once a week to ensure they're properly placed, the road closure is clearly posted and vehicles cannot travel on the road, agency spokesman Matt Deitchley said.

Deitchley said he didn't have information about whether the barricade sign and concrete barrier were moved by hand or with a vehicle.

The Lake County Sheriff's Department is investigating, he said.

"The concrete barriers are heavy. They are heavy, and it would be difficult to move them by hand," he said. * * *

Iftikhar Hussain may have been following a GPS navigation when he drove off the bridge deck, an investigator said.

INDOT learned the barricade sign and concrete barrier had been moved after responding to Cline Avenue at the request of the Sheriff's Department, Deitchley said.

Lake County Sheriff's Deputy Police Chief Dan Murchek said the sheriff's traffic unit continues to investigate the crash. * * *

INDOT closed the Cline Avenue Bridge in November 2009 and condemned it a month later after inspectors determined the bridge's interior cables were badly corroded and the bridge was gravely weakened. The state paid $9 million to demolish the bridge in 2013.

In 2012, East Chicago and INDOT entered into an agreement with the Figg Group to build a new, privately owned and operated toll bridge. The city and INDOT transferred the right of way in 2013 to Cline Avenue Bridge LLC, a partnership associated with the Figg Group.

Officials have repeatedly pushed back the anticipated start date for construction of a new bridge. Figg told the Indiana House Roads and Transportation Committee on Feb. 11 that construction will being this spring. * * *

Scott Green, of Wilmette, Ill., said he came within 4 feet of driving off the bridge deck a month ago while on his way to Indianapolis.

Green, who is not familiar with the area and decided to take Cline Avenue after looking at a map, said he was able to drive around concrete barriers after entering eastbound Cline Avenue from the Indiana Toll Road.

Green said he encountered at least one and perhaps two concrete barriers, but they were blocking only two of the three lanes on the road.

Green said he didn't recall seeing any signs saying the road is closed or that the bridge is out. He saw frozen tire tracks, he said.

"I saw a car coming the other way on the other side," he said. "I saw that and I thought, 'OK, the road must be open.' That sort of gave me the confidence to keep going," he said.

When he realized the road was ending, he slammed on the brakes, he said.

Green admitted he felt stupid following his close call, but he wanted to speak out to prevent anyone else from making the same mistake.

"It happened to one person, and it almost happened to me," he said. "Something is wrong. There should be no physical way a car can get down there."

Deitchley said INDOT crews do not drive on the closed section of road for any reason. He has not heard of anyone driving other than the Hussains driving around the barriers, he said.

"To my understanding, the barriers are placed in such a way to prevent that," he said. "There's no room for doubt."

Anyone caught driving on the road, such as people drag racing, will be prosecuted, he said.

This March 30th story from C/Net has a good photo of the bridge from the side.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 6, 2015 10:30 AM
Posted to Indiana Government