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Free to a good home: City offers Chicago Avenue Bridge to anyone who can move it

The historic Chicago Avenue Bridge is free for any entity with the money and means to relocate it. Otherwise it's slated to be demolished. | Courtesy of David Wilson

The city is offering the Chicago Avenue Bridge for free to whoever is willing to take it.

The catch? They’ll have to be able to move it.

A public notice on the Department of Transportation website says the bridge, which crosses the Chicago River, is available to any state, local or private entity willing to pay the moving costs and maintain it in its new home. The century-old bridge is slated to be replaced by an interim steel and concrete structure.

Interested parties must submit a letter to the city by July 13 to qualify for custody of the aging structure. Included in that letter must be the bridge’s proposed new location, a detailed plan to transport it, a breakdown of how its removal will be funded and an estimate of how long it will take.

“It’s lived past its useful life,” said Susan Hofer, a Chicago Department of Transportation spokesperson.

For more than 100 years, the bridge has carried traffic across the North Branch of the river. It was built in 1914 by the Ketler-Elliot Erection Company and is considered one of the first Chicago-style drawbridges to use a pony truss support structure, double leaf counterweights and concrete bridgehouses — a staple structure found along the river today.

Today, the bridge is rusted and the cost of maintenance outweighs the cost of simply replacing it, Hofer said. But she acknowledged that the offer to give it away instead of outright destroying it stems from its special place in Chicago’s storied architectural history.

Federal law also mandates that any state wishing to demolish a “historic bridge” must first offer it to another entity to remove before it can be destroyed.

The purchasing party must maintain the bridge and the features that give it its historic significance, according to CDOT. Those standards are laid out in the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and Guidelines for the Rehabilitation of Historic Buildings.

Hofer said CDOT has not received proposals since the offer opened June 5.

If nobody submits a proposal to take the bridge off the city’s hands, it will be demolished this fall, Hofer said.

Tom Carmichael from the Chicago Architecture Foundation said he fears its demolition would set a precedent, encouraging the city to axe its aging signature bridges rather than pay to renovate and repair them.

Moving the whole bridge plus the two enormous counterweights embedded in the river bank would be an “enormous task,” he said.

For an architecture buff like Carmichael, the foundation’s former River Cruise director, seeing the bridge go would be “losing a bit of the heritage of the city.”