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The Red Gate: Third new bridge opens across Fox River

12/15/2012 St. Charles
Mayor Donald DeWitte (right) shakes hands with Craig SurtArchitectural Cast Stone after Surthad given mayor cement cast honoring

12/15/2012 St. Charles Mayor Donald DeWitte (right) shakes hands with Craig Surta, Architectural Cast Stone, after Surta had given the mayor the cement cast honoring the Red Gate Bridge during a ribbon cutting ceremony at St. Charles North High School on Saturday, December 15, 2012. Architectural Cast Stone out of West Chicago had completed precasts for the bridge. | Michael Jarecki ~ For Sun-Times Media

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How St. Charles paid for the
Red Gate Bridge

$13.9 million in grants from federal, state and county governments

$9 million from a special city real estate tax collected since 1999 for the project

$4.86 million in city-issued general obligation bonds

$3.1 million in contributions from developers and city enterprise funds

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Updated: January 18, 2013 6:10AM

ST. CHARLES — Exactly two years after the Stearns Road Bridge and Extension opened to traffic on a frigid December day, the Red Gate Road Bridge opened with a similar flurry of speech-making and ribbon-cutting Saturday.

Connecting Route 31 with Route 25, the new span is 2.2 miles south of the Stearns bridge and 2.7 miles north of St. Charles’ Main Street (Route 64) Bridge. St. Charles officials hope it will relieve congestion in their downtown, which has been especially acute in recent weeks as repairs are underway in several places along Route 64.

The $30 million span links the intersection of Route 31 and Red Gate Road on the west side of the river — across the street from St. Charles North High School — to Route 25 on the east side, just north of Unit School District 303’s Little Woods Facility. For now, it will be open only for motor vehicles. A lower deck is still under construction that will permit the passage of pedestrians and bike riders beginning sometime next spring.

Liz Schuetz, who lives west of the high school, said she expects the new link will cut the commuting time to her job in Carol Stream from what now can take an hour as she crawls along congested Route 64 down to about 20 minutes.

If the Stearns bridge and extension were many years in the planning, they couldn’t hold a candle to the Red Gate one. Local officials and residents have been talking about building a new river crossing there, about midway between St. Charles and South Elgin, since Warren G. Harding was president.

“Good things come to those who wait,” said St. Charles Mayor Donald DeWitte. “Ninety-two years after a bridge corridor was first identified at this location in a planning document from 1920, the patience of our forefathers has been rewarded with the opening of this new community asset.”

DeWitte teased longtime city Alderman Jim Martin by asking, “Were you there, Jim?” in 1920.

About 250 people jammed into the Commons at St. Charles North High School to hear the speeches, then boarded six buses to be shuttled onto the middle of the bridge. As cold rain fell and a stiff wind blew through the 45-degree air, they watched in discomfort as the mayor cut a ribbon with a giant scissors. Veteran Public Works Director Mark Koenen stood on one side of him and Martin on the other.

Vehicle traffic was to be allowed onto the span as soon as barriers could be removed. But with guard rails only knee-high and no sidewalks, Koenen said, no pedestrians or bikers will be allowed until the bike path underneath is completed in approximately April.

City Administrator Brian Townsend noted that this brings to reality all three new bridges in mid-Kane County that were recommended by U.S. Rep. Dennis Hastert’s Fox River bridge study task force in 1992 — the “local” Prairie Street Bridge just south of downtown St. Charles, finished in 1994; the “regional” $100-plus million Stearns Road project connecting Route 59 all the way to Randall Road, which was substantially finished in 2010; and now the “sub-regional” Red Gate connection, which has only one lane in each direction and allows no heavy trucks.

The bridge was always controversial. The plan drew flak from taxpayers who didn’t like the cost, from residents of Wayne and the bridge area who think it will increase traffic past their homes, and from open-space backers who objected that the western bridge approach goes through the middle of Fox River Bluff West Forest Preserve, which consists of paths through heavy forest that are used largely by people walking dogs.

John Hoscheit, chairman of the Kane County Forest Preserve District and before that as a member of the St. Charles City Council, said it was “the most difficult project I’ve dealt with in elected office.”

Just last week, Hoscheit said, a resident he was speaking with at a public event told him, “That Red Gate Bridge will never happen.” He said he didn’t have the courage to burst her bubble of misinformation.

Hoscheit said another person asked him, “How can you destroy a forest preserve for the construction of a road?”

“My answer,” Hoscheit said, “is that we have improved the forest preserve, not destroyed it. We have now connected the Fox River Trail on both sides of the river so bike riders and walkers can go north and south. And we have added 20 acres of forest preserve land on the east side of the river in the Little Woods area.”

The bike path will link the Fox River Trail on the east bank with the Fox River Bluff West Forest Preserve and dog-walking park and (via an east-west trail that runs along Red Gate Road) to the north-south trail along Randall Road.

A pedestrian underpass below the new roadway will allow humans and canines to get from Fox River Bluff West’s parking lot to the rest of the preserve.

State Rep. Randy Ramey, R-Carol Stream, represented part of St. Charles before his territory was redistricted last year. He said that when he first came out to St. Charles, the first thing everybody asked him was, “Are you for or against the Red Gate Bridge?”

But DeWitte said that “no candidate for public office who opposed this project has ever been elected.”

Sitting in the audience, 76-year-old Fred Norris, who pushed for new bridges while he was St. Charles mayor from 1977-1997, said much of the opposition to Red Gate came from people he calls “BANANAs.”

“Everyone talks about NIMBYs — people who say, ‘Not In My Back Yard,’” Norris said. “But we now have BANANAs — ‘Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.’ They said that if we build a bridge, it will only bring in more people to our area. But you have to realize that the people are coming anyway, and you have to be able to serve them.”

“St. Charles is an excellent place to live,” Hoscheit agreed. “But everyone who moves here wants to be the LAST person who moves here.”

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