MERRILLVILLE – Political campaigns come and go, but one thing has stayed the same over nearly a decade in Northwest Indiana. Yes, Virginia, can you say Cline Avenue Bridge? And, rightly so, the local Democrats continue to turn the bridge to their political advantage.
The bridge was a major link between the Chicago Skyway and Northwest Indiana,  particularly the casinos and area steel mills and other industries. The state closed the elevated bridge in 2009, citing structural deficiencies.
Although former Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels said the structure would be rebuilt by the state, he quickly washed his hands of the issue. The state then contracted with a private firm to rebuild the structure, although not to its original size. United Bridge Partners has started work on an operations and maintenance building in East Chicago. Work on the bridge, however, hasn’t started and it likely won’t be completed until 2019.
Just the other day, Munster Democrat Mara Candelaria Reardon, who is seeking to regain the House District 12 seat she lost two years ago, brought up the bridge issue. Reardon (pictured) is seeking to oust Republican Rep. Bill Fine, the man she narrowly defeated in 2012 and barely lost to two years ago.
Fine wasn’t in the legislature when the decision was made to hand over the bridge to the private sector that will convert it to a toll road. Nevertheless, Reardon is hoping that the construction delay will fall at the feet of all Republicans and help her win back her seat. Reardon this week said the Republican super majority in the House “has chosen in the last three budget cycles to ignore Northwest Indiana and their transportation needs, impeding commerce and stunting access to vital job markets for almost a decade.”
Reardon added, “The empty promises of one governor and the blatant disregard by our current governor have brought us to where we are today, mortgaging our assets and passing the buck to the local, the private sector and the people who will now have to pay a toll to get to their jobs.” The casinos in East Chicago and Gary, which relied heavily on Cline Avenue to bring their customers, took a hit when the bridge closed and haven’t gotten back to normal.
While Fine may not have been in the legislature when the major decisions were made about the bridge, he may have to pay the price. None of the Northwest Indiana Republican legislators had much to say as the state delayed reconstruction and then turned it over to the private sector.
The Cline Avenue Bridge also is a favorite issue of Democratic governor candidate John Gregg when he is on the stump in Northwest Indiana.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. He is a columnist for The Times of Northwest Indiana