Standing in the middle of the new Red Gate Bridge in St. Charles, supporters of the new Fox River crossing could feel the structure flex as nonconstruction vehicles rumbled across for the first time Saturday. Yet even the tonnage of the cars and buses may not have matched the weight of the moment. As officials sliced through the ceremonial ribbon, it marked the climax of more than 80 years of planning, politicking and fundraising for the bridge.
For some of the officials present, the bridge was the toughest project they ever helped usher through in their political careers. Kane County Board member and forest preserve President John Hoscheit said the bridge is the reason he first ran for county office 18 years ago. Hoscheit said the bridge boosts commuting options for both drivers and pedestrians.
"The river is one of our biggest assets, but it creates challenges," Hoscheit said. "This bridge, as well as (the Stearns Road Bridge) improves the forest preserves. We now connect the west side of the river to the Fox River Trail on the east and allow people to go north and south and west."
For other politicians, such as St. Charles Mayor Don DeWitte, the opening of the bridge marks what may be the final major accomplishment of a political career. DeWitte is not seeking another term. He choked up while speaking about helping create infrastructure that will be a lasting community benefit long after he is gone.
"This is a bridge that will improve our quality of life, adding minutes and hours to dinner with friends and family, a shortcut to daily travel and commuting needs and faster response times when the need for assistance from police, paramedic or fire department emergency services are necessary," DeWitte said.
"In the toughest of economic times our nation must continue to move forward. We must continue to expand and improve our infrastructure. We must continue to create jobs. And most importantly we all must strive to leave a lasting legacy to our children and our children's children. And if the private sector isn't given the tools to do it, then the public sector must."
The $30 million bridge is also expected to alleviate traffic congestion on St. Charles' Main Street. State, federal and county funds paid for more than half the project. St. Charles residents have and will continue to pay a special tax levy to fund the difference. The pedestrian walkway portion of the bridge will open in April.