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Our View: A tale of two bridges

Published: Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012 5:30 a.m. CST

A ribbon-cutting ceremony set for today will celebrate the opening of the Red Gate Bridge in St. Charles. Its building has been an effort that has survived years of debate, as opponents questioned its purpose and have said it might drive potential customers away from the city’s downtown businesses.

But supporters have touted it as a chance to ease traffic and offer another way to connect the east and west sides of the city on the north end.

The process illustrates how difficult it can be to achieve such a project, and Elburn residents can relate. In Elburn, the long-discussed project to extend Anderson Road and build a bridge over the Union Pacific tracks has stalled.

A green light appeared to exist when village trustees had the opportunity to approve ShoDeen’s Elburn Station development. But, instead, village leaders postponed further action on the agreement, taking into account the concerns of residents over the size of the proposal, which called for 2,200 new homes – including more than 1,300 apartments and condominiums – over the next 20 years. The potential existed to double the population of Elburn.

ShoDeen owns much of the land needed for the Anderson Road project, and the developer has shown little interest in selling it for the road to Kane County without the development agreement with Elburn in place.

The opponents of the projects in St. Charles and Elburn did not share identical concerns. In St. Charles, the bridge will offer a way to cross the Fox River and keep traffic flowing. It’s not dependent on a large development. Some just didn’t think the bridge was necessary and worth the effort and cost.

In Elburn, the bridge would offer a way to keep traffic moving without the delays caused by the 105 trains per day that pass through town, causing drivers to sit in long lines on Route 47. A good portion of the most vocal opponents of the ShoDeen development still would like a bridge built, although there are some concerned about the bridge’s potential impact on the village’s downtown businesses.

The project would bring development near Elburn’s Metra Station, which right now serves its function to get its riders to stops along the way to Chicago, but doesn’t offer the kinds of attractions that are available near other Metra stops. In Geneva, Metra customers can get off the train and walk through a beautiful downtown area with many shopping, service and dining options. In Elburn, Metra customers get off the train, get into their cars and go home.

The funding for the bridge is in place. The county and the village of Elburn have secured $18 million from federal and state governments for the project. The fear is that the money won’t continue to be available while village officials debate Elburn Station.

The next step in the process likely will be determined by the village’s voters. Municipal elections take place in the spring, and candidates can begin to file Monday. It’s likely that residents will be given a clear choice, because the Elburn Station project certainly will be a campaign issue. Residents will be able to choose among candidates who almost certainly will make their stance on the issue known. Those who oppose the ShoDeen project should accept that they might never see a ceremony like the one set for today in St. Charles.

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