By Dan Carden, Times of Northwest Indiana

dan.carden@nwi.com

INDIANAPOLIS | Gov. Mitch Daniels said Monday the state will take an existing replacement plan for the closed Cline Avenue bridge and "pull it forward."

In an interview with The Times, the Republican governor said he's already asked the Indiana Department of Transportation to look into accelerating the project.

"We may have to do some reprioritizing. It may have to wait for a little while. But we are searching for a way to deal with this surprise," Daniels said.

INDOT closed a 4-mile stretch of Ind. 912, known locally as Cline Avenue, on Nov. 13 after inspectors found significant corrosion where the 70-foot-tall concrete and steel piers meet the bridge deck over the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal in East Chicago.

The closure has redirected heavy truck traffic onto city streets in Hammond and East Chicago. Some Northwest Indiana casinos also have reported lower attendance because it's now harder to get to their locations along Lake Michigan.

Nevertheless, Daniels said the transportation department did the right thing by shutting down the bridge.

"Public safety comes first. If the engineers say they can't guarantee the safety of vehicles over time on that bridge, then we're going to have to accept the inconvenience, at least for a while," he said.

The Cline Avenue bridge opened in 1986. Thick cables stretched through the poured concrete structure of the bridge appear to have worn out.

A state highway improvement plan released before the bridge shutdown called for spending $90.6 million to replace the 1 1/4-mile bridge in 2012.

Despite the state's $1.8 billion estimated budget deficit, the governor said Monday paying for a new bridge shouldn't be a problem.

"Unlike any state in America, and for only one reason -- the Toll Road transaction, we have a record-breaking infrastructure budget," Daniels said.

Indiana cashed a check for $3.8 billion in 2006 after signing a 75-year deal to lease the Indiana Toll Road to a private operator. The lease money has been used to rebuild Indiana's roads, even as most states cut back on infrastructure projects during the recession.

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