July 23, 2014 5:36 am • Anna Ortiz Times Correspondent
HAMMOND | A newly completed pedestrian and bike trail bridge symbolizes the benefits of cooperation between Hammond and Munster, officials of both municipalities said Wednesday.
The new Monon Trail bridge, which spans the Little Calumet River, is between Manor Avenue in Munster and Lyman Avenue in Hammond.
Hammond, Munster and Calumet River Basin Development Commission officials gathered Wednesday with representatives of Gary-based Superior Construction to officially open the bridge.
As he was preparing to cut the ribbon, Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. called up children in the audience to be a part of the ceremony.
“I called those kids up there because in 50 years, when those kids grow up, the bridge will still be there,” McDermott said. “It will benefit Hammond residents for decades.”
This year has been a huge step, McDermott said, referring to the four pedestrian-cyclist bridges that have opened this year in Wolf Lake Memorial Park in Hammond, at 165th Street on the Monon Trail, at 167th Street and Columbia Avenue and the latest bridge across the Little Calumet River.
“The thing about this bridge is that three different governments — Hammond, Munster and the (Calumet River Basin Development Commission) — with three different agendas were working together,” McDermott said. “People talk about the political dysfunction, particularly in the northwest part of the state, but this bridge couldn’t have happened without those partners.”
The bridge not only connects Hammond and Munster, but also the past and present, project officials said.
It was created reusing the circa 1909 rail trestle beams of the old Monon Railroad that once stood there.
Tom Wichlinski, vice chairman of the Little Calumet River Basin Development Commission, said the old trestle created problems with flooding because debris would get trapped in the structure.
David Nellans, a Munster town councilman, said there are many more opportunities through which Hammond and Munster can work together.
“It was a big asset to remove the trestle. It was a major choking point for the river,” Nellans said. “We need more cooperation like this between communities.”
Before the bridge was completed, cyclists and pedestrians had to go through neighborhoods and traffic to get across to either side of the Monon Trail, which is more than 4 miles long and stretches from south Fisher Street in Munster to the Erie Lackawanna Trail at Douglas Street and Lyman Avenue in Hammond.
Bob Huffman, of Munster, who was among the crowd that stretched across the bridge for Wednesday’s bridge-opening ceremony, said he has been biking in the area for the past 40 years.
“These trails give you the option to get outside, get exercise —especially for older people like me,” Huffman said.