THREATENED: Closed in 2014 After Being Declared Unsafe, Darrow Bridge / Columbia Bridge Languishes

“The Chicago Department of Planning and Development estimates that some 700,000 people will visit the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) each year after its completion in 2025. In anticipation of this influx, a flurry of roadwork facility repairs in and around Jackson Park is underway to ease the integration of the OPC campus into the park.

“City officials and park advocates alike anticipate that many of the thousands of visitors ascending the 235-foot presidential library tower will be prompted by the views to head to the lakeshore or the nearby Wooded Island.

“But the future of two sites closest to the campus, The Clarence Darrow Memorial Bridge, a would-be linchpin of foot traffic flow from the OPC to the lake, and the Japanese garden on Wooded Island, remains in question.

“The natural flow of pedestrian and bicycle traffic across the northern part of Jackson Park has been for the past decade restricted by the closure of the Darrow Bridge (officially known as the Columbia Bridge). Deemed structurally unsafe by the city and closed in 2013, the bridge connects the western and eastern sides of the park by spanning the waterway flowing between the Columbia Basin to the north and the park’s lagoons to the south.

“Built in 1880 and rebuilt after the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, the Darrow Bridge was declared unsafe by the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) in 2009 and blocked to pedestrians and bicycles in the late fall of 2013.

“Structural problems with the bridge were succinctly detailed in a 2014 report from city officials to the Jackson Park Advisory Council: ‘It’s 126 years old. We had to close it down,’ a CDOT engineer said in an advisory council meeting. (Although situated within Jackson Park, the Darrow Bridge is owned and managed by the CDOT, a consequence of its historical use.)

“In December of 2021, the Herald reported ‘the bridge stands overgrown with weeds and a few small trees.’ Today, it remains the same, overgrown with weeds and a few small but larger trees and blocked to all traffic.

“Estimated time schedules for repair of the Darrow Bridge have been offered by CDOT several times since its closure.

“In late September of this year, Jayette Bolinski, Director of Communications for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, confirmed that little progress has been made on the historical review process.

“‘My response regarding Darrow Bridge stands – there is no change. The SHPO has not been notified by any entity about the Darrow Bridge and the Section 106 process,’ Bolinski wrote in an email. (Monaghan, Hyde Park Herald, 10/5/23)

Preservation Chicago has been advocating for the restoration of the Clarence Darrow Memorial Bridge with community partners for over 20 years. We consider the decades of neglect and deferred maintenance to be an embarrassment to the Chicago Park District and the City of Chicago. The cost of a preservation-oriented renovation in the early 2000s would have cost a fraction of the costs today. The municipal agencies with responsibility for maintaining public assets should properly maintain critical infrastructure.

After decades of hearing that the Chicago Park District does not have the resources or capacity to perform routine maintenance on the Chicago Lakefront, Preservation Chicago has begun a campaign to establish the Chicago Lakefront as a National Park. This National Park designation would provide federal oversight, management and resources to reverse decades of deferred maintenance.

Read the full story at Hyde Park Herald

Is Jackson Park ready for its future? A closer look at plans to reopen the Darrow Bridge, revamp the Garden of the Phoenix and more; Marc Monaghan, Hyde Park Herald, 10/5/23

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