The highly anticipated Stearns Road Bridge and Corridor north of St. Charles opened up to traffic on Wednesday afternoon, and its grand opening celebration brought key people associated throughout the history of the project to mark the occasion.
The project, located in South Elgin and costing about $165 million to complete, provides a much-needed east to west corridor for the Fox River Valley area, took nearly 20 years to become a reality from concept to completion.
"As you will soon see, the Stearns Road Corridor was well worth the wait," said South Elgin Mayor James Hansen at the ceremony on Dec. 15.
The idea of the Stearns Road Corridor first came about in 1990, when then Congressman Dennis Hastert spearheaded an effort to find a location somewhere in the Fox Valley area to build a major regional corridor across the Fox River. Hastert was present at Wednesday morning's festivities and to see his vision turn into a reality.
"Denny Hastert once said he was growing old waiting for the Stearns Road Bridge," said Kane County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay. "Well, Denny, that aging process has ended."
Construction of the Stearns Road Bridge and Corridor began in summer 2009. It includes 16 acres of open space, 4.6 miles of new roadway, seven new highway bridges and seven miles of bike trails.
Many are hopeful that the new regional corridor will open up new markets, and bring new business opportunity to the South Elgin area—as well as all of Kane County—and help ease up congestion on existing regional crossings such as Route 64 in St. Charles and Route 38 in Geneva.
Hastert said he recognized the need for another regional corridor in the Fox Valley area as he saw its population increasing, especially on the west side of the Fox River.
"People had to go from the east side of the river to the west side," he said. "Places were bottlenecks across the river."
Hastert, and other government officials both past and present who played a role in the project, credited its completion to the collaborative efforts of all governing bodies from the local municipalities, the county, state and federal levels.
"You can't get anything done in government without there first being a need," he said. "You then need support and funding."
The corridor, which begins at Randall and Stearns roads, travels east through South Elgin toward the Fox River and up to the Stearns Road Bridge. Once across the bridge, Stearns Road connects with Route 25 and curves around across Dunham Road. There, Route 25 continues northward while Stearns Road moves east toward the end of the corridor in DuPage County.
"You're bringing to the community a lot of amenities," said Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez, who came from Washington D.C. for the event. "The future generations are going to be really happy you got together and did this."
Not to be forgotten are the 220 employees from the Kane County Department of Transportation, and various contractors, consultants and labor unions who worked on the project every day until its completion.
Jeffery Meagher, the site superintendent on the project for Herlihy Mid-Continent Company, pointed out that the construction of the Stearns Road Corridor gave employment to so many people at a time when the construction industry has suffered.
"Everyone (who worked on the project) will be able to point at the bridge and say 'I built this,'" Meagher said.
Those same people lined the new corridor, took photos, cheered and waved as a vehicle procession, which included local business owners, representatives from all of the projects' contractors and cyclists who will benefit from the corridor's new bike trails, traveled east across the bridge for the first time. The procession stopped in the middle of the bridge for a ribbon cutting and then traveled all of the way east to the end of the corridor—and then came back the way it came.
"Today is a great day," said Hastert. "When you measure your life by things you've accomplished, and by things you get done, this is a good thing to get done."