Tomorrow morning, early risers can catch what may be the most dramatic step in the process of converting the Bloomingdale Line to an elevated greenway and linear park. Starting around 5 a.m., crews will begin the process of transporting the rail line’s massive Ashland bridge 1.5 miles to its new home at Western.
“On Saturday, you’re going to see a bridge parade,” said Beth White, director of the local office of the Trust for Public Land, which is managing the Bloomingdale Trail project for the city and the Chicago Park District. The span will be rolled down Ashland, North and Western using a device called a self-propelled modular transporter, operated by remote by a crew member with a joystick.
“It’s a piece of very specialized machinery that moves very large things,” White said. “It has about 80 wheels. It’s the same piece of machinery that was used to move the space shuttle. You’ll see the machine move the bridge into place, and then they’ll secure the bridge, and the machine sort of collapses down and is taken away in pieces.”
The old Western bridge was the only one that was found to be structurally unsound for the Bloomingdale Trail, the centerpiece of the park network the city has dubbed The 606. Meanwhile, plans call for the trail to terminate at Walsh Park, on the west side of Ashland, although White says it will eventually be extended east to Elston.
In March, crews demolished the Western bridge and took down the Ashland bridge, which is currently sitting in a park district work yard just north of Wash Park. They also removed concrete from the line’s Milwaukee bridge, when will be elevated and enhanced with decorative arches.
“One of the goals of the sustainability plan for The 606 was to reuse and repurpose infrastructure,” White said. She estimates that recycling the Ashland bridge will save $300,000 compared to building a new Western bridge. “So it wasn’t just a case of, ‘It would be cool to repurpose the bridge.’”