ST. CHARLES – Joined by several dignitaries and community members, St. Charles staff and elected officials on Saturday morning celebrated the opening of long-awaited Red Gate Bridge.
"Merry Christmas, St. Charles," Mayor Don DeWitte said moments before cutting the ribbon he and aldermen held at the center of Red Gate Bridge.
More than 100 people attended the ceremony, which began inside St. Charles North High School for remarks from DeWitte, city administrator Brian Townsend and several others.
DeWitte described the bridge as a community asset that will serve the city's residents and neighbors, as well as generations to come.
"Our patience and the patience of our forefathers have been rewarded with the opening of this new community asset, a bridge that will improve our quality of life, adding minutes and hours to dinner with friends or families, a shortcut to daily travel and communities and faster response times when the need for assistance from police, paramedic or fire department emergency services are necessary," DeWitte said.
The $31 million project is the city's fourth bridge. Townsend noted the rarity of opening a new bridge by naming the others and when they were built. Main Street Bridge has been reconstructed and widened eight times since its opening in the 1830s. Illinois Street Bridge was dedicated in 1957, and Prairie Street Bridge was opened in 1994.
"This project shows us that there is no limit to what we can achieve when state, federal and local agencies work together on vital infrastructure improvements," said John Fortmann, acting deputy director of highways and Region One engineer for the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Former Kane County Board chairman and state senator elect Karen McConnaughay said such projects encounter many hurdles. She commended Mayor DeWitte and former mayors Sue Klinkhamer and Fred Norris for their work.
"What it takes to get a project like this done is leadership," McConnaughay said.
Resident Craig Surta of Architectural Cast Stone presented DeWitte with a souvenir for his work.
"This bridge has been a long time in the making… it's due," Surta said. "It was truly under the leadership of Mayor Don DeWitte that the job got done. For that, we are very pleased and grateful."
Townsend and DeWitte also recognized Public Works Director Mark Koenen. Koenen recently celebrated 30 years with the city and has likely spent the most time on the Red Gate Bridge project than anyone, they said.
"Today is really about St. Charles and uniting two sides of the river as we look ahead," Koenen said.
Though the Red Gate Bridge roadway opened to vehicular traffic Saturday, the project won't be complete until next spring, when the pedestrian pathway is set to open. Pedestrians and bicyclists are not allowed on the roadway due to low railings.