Aurora celebrated the end of the century-old Downer Place bridges Friday afternoon with a "Last Blast on the Bridge" ceremony before demolition is set to begin Monday.
While the only real "blast" was the explosion of a short fireworks display, the event marked a historic moment during Aurora's 175th year, Mayor Tom Weisner said.
When the reinforced concrete bridges were built between 1906 and 1908, they were trumpeted as a way to connect the east and west sides of the Fox River into "one unified Aurora," said John Jaros, executive director of the Aurora Historical Society. "And that's what we are."
Weisner said the new bridges will serve the same purpose when completed late this fall.
"They also will connect downtown to the future," Weisner said.
Bridge construction will cost $6.8 million, 80 percent of which will be paid from a federal grant. The remaining $1.4 million will be paid by the city, with help from a $500,000 state grant, Public Works Director Ken Schroth said.
When crews from D Construction of Coal City, Ill., begin their work Monday morning, they'll flip a switch to turn on traffic signals recently installed on Benton Avenue one block south of Downer. The signals will allow traffic to travel two ways on Benton instead of the usual one way eastbound.
Barriers to stop drivers and pedestrians from entering the construction site will allow space for pedestrians to access businesses near the bridges, Schroth said.
Weisner said he knows bridge construction will cause extra hassles for owners of Downer Place shops such as The River's Edge Cafe and furniture store Muebleria Sergio. But the city decided to replace both bridges at once, and both during one construction season, to cause the least possible disturbance to downtown merchants.
Beth Standish, owner of The River's Edge Cafe, said the city has kept her well-informed about construction plans and other downtown business owners have offered to help in any way they can during the next nine months.
"It's supposed to be negative, but it's been nothing but positive for us," Standish said about the bridge replacement.
The bridges connect the two sides of Ward 2, the only one of Aurora's 10 wards to span both sides of the Fox River. Alderman Juany Garza, who represents the 2nd Ward, said she is glad to see upgrades to the structures, which have been deemed structurally deficient by the Illinois Department of Transportation.
"We plan to recycle as much as possible all the bricks from the sidewalks," Garza said.
During construction, the city will provide a project update at 9 a.m. the third Thursday of each month on the second floor above The River's Edge Cafe, 18 W. Downer Place.