(LaPorte, IN) - An 800 foot long pedestrian bridge over the Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks is among the upgrades pursued in LaPorte as part of the city’s ongoing economic revitalization efforts.
City Planner Tom Casey said the bridge is part of a plan to create sort of a “huge park” by connecting happenings downtown with amenities at Clear Lake and a former industrial area being redeveloped beside to the 97 acre body of water. Those areas are now separated by the tracks.
Casey said a major driver for the project is providing what talented young people want nowadays so they stay and relocate here. “They want the urban environment. They want the rural environment. They would like access to lakes, trails, their coffee, their music, their art and culture all in one spot,” he said.
The hard surface bridge would stretch above the tracks from Washington Street beside the old La Porte Gas and Electric buildings to Dunes Event Center at New Porte Landing.
Casey said both long vacant structures, erected in 1918, could serve a new purpose like work spaces and a market for artists. “It’ll create a really cool vibe in downtown LaPorte,” he said.
Casey said the plan also includes a plaza at the southern foot of the bridge in a city owned parking lot at Lincolnway and Monroe Street. The plaza would feature plenty of greenspace along with seating and events such as live entertainment. Monroe Street, north of Lincolnway, would be closed during events to provide additional space under overhead lights strung across the road last year.
The half mile trail on the opposite side of the bridge would be extended around Clear Lake and connect to the existing Chessie Trail, which starts at Pine Lake. Chessie Trail would be stretched across the U.S. 35 overpass and east on Lincolnway to the old La Porte Hospital site, where another lush greenspace is planned.
Added to a boardwalk, recently built at Clear Lake, could be offerings like fishing docks. The bridge would also provide convenient pedestrian access to nearby Fox Park, which already includes a baseball field and amphitheater hosting live music at least twice a week during the summer.
Casey said information about La Porte’s industrial beginnings could also be provided at different spots along the way. Another motivator for the project is creating a walkable and healthier community by providing access to more attractions without having to use a motor vehicle, he said.
The projects hinge on acquiring grants or some other source of outside revenue. Casey said the trail and greenspace work, expected to cost roughly $3 million, could happen this year depending on the availability of funds. It might take be a few more years for the bridge to go up because of the additional dollars involved and approval required from Norfolk Southern Railroad, he said.
The improvements are contained in the “Heart of LaPorte” plan, developed recently to better position the city for the future. The plan was entirely paid for by the Healthcare Foundation of LaPorte. “We've got to find funding, but if we don’t have a plan, we don’t know where we’re going,” said Mayor Tom Dermody.
Casey said the improvements would resemble what’s been done in other areas built long ago primarily on manufacturing. “We’re basically learning from other communities that have been extremely successful by doing this,” he said.