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New bridge officially opens in downtown Fairbanks

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Posted: Monday, November 12, 2012 2:44 pm | Updated: 12:09 pm, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — Traffic started flowing across Veterans Memorial Bridge over the Chena River on Monday afternoon, after a short parade of antique cars carrying veterans officially commemorated the bridge opening in downtown Fairbanks.

The vintage cars made it across the bridge despite temperatures hovering near zero, and thus far other drivers have been able to navigate the new traffic pattern. About 100 people came to watch the procession, which was led by the Creamer Car, a 1910 Chalmers-Detroit, which was the first car across the adjacent Cushman Street bridge in 1960.

The bridge connects southbound Illinois Street with Barnette Street. It was built in 2010, but is part a much older plan for the area’s streets and utility corridor that’s been in the works, in fits and starts, for more than 30 years.

“I think Steve Titus (northern region director for the Alaska Department of Transportation) may have described it as a utility project with a bunch of pipes in the ground with asphalt over the top of it,” said Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins during a presentations at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center after the opening ceremony. “That’s for sure what it is, you kept seeing new excavations and new pipes being laid at different depths.”

Some 70,000 man-hours went into $23.6 million project and no workers were seriously injured in the construction, said Bill Hoople, president of North Pole-based lead contractor HC Contractors.

The project was trying on Illinois Street businesses. Because of the construction, a Sunrise Bagel & Espresso hut on Illinois Street moved to the Sadler’s parking lot on Cushman Street. Julia’s Solstice Cafe, a coffee shop on Terminal Street, closed during the summer.

During Monday’s presentation, Big I bar owner John Jackovich, was complimentary of the way the construction crew handled access to his business during the job.

Construction also could have been difficult for the Chena River salmon run. The project did a good job with the plan for the bridge by a leaving natural river bank, according to a representative of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who presented certificates to local leaders for good stewardship of the salmon.

Traffic is open in both directions on Illinois Street and on both the Cushman Street bridge and Veterans Memorial Bridge.

Watch out for the flashing yellow arrows, Fairbanks’ newest traffic signals at the new intersections. The arrows are a reminder to left-turning motorists to yield to oncoming traffic.

Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter, @FDNMcrime.

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