On her way to Danville High School as a teenager, Lois Cooper walked the old subway tunnel on Fairchild Street every day. More than 60 years later, she was signing her name on one of the steel beams of the overpass that will replace the more than 90-year-old subway tunnel that carried Fairchild Street under several railroad lines and two streets.
DANVILLE — On her way to Danville High School as a teenager, Lois Cooper walked the old subway tunnel on Fairchild Street every day.
More than 60 years later, she was signing her name on one of the steel beams of the overpass that will replace the more than 90-year-old subway tunnel that carried Fairchild Street under several railroad lines and two streets.
"I'm thrilled to be here today; even with a cane," said Cooper, 80, who was finding some relief from the 97-degree heat Wednesday afternoon by sitting in the shade at the dusty construction site of the new Fairchild Street overpass.
An alderman for 24 years, Cooper decided against running for re-election last spring but came out Wednesday to join other current and former aldermen for a beam-signing ceremony.
The group of 13, including Mayor Scott Eisenhauer, signed their names to the last structural steel beam to be placed in the new Fairchild overpass.
"It's been a long time," Cooper said of the several years it has taken from the initial discussions about replacing the old subway tunnel to deciding how to replace it and finally starting construction last year.
The concrete walls of the old tunnel deteriorated to the point several years ago that the city had to reinforce them, and eventually close the tunnel to traffic for safety reasons. That's when city officials began focusing in earnest on securing the funding to replace it.
Rather than building a replacement tunnel, design engineers recommended carrying Fairchild Street, one of the city's main east-west routes, over the streets and rail lines that intersect Fairchild east of Danville High School.
After signing the steel beam Wednesday afternoon, city officials attached an American flag and an Illinois flag to the beam, and a crane and construction crew members hoisted and guided the piece into place alongside 17 other steel beams that make up one of two bridge spans in the overpass. The last beam with the signatures was set in the bridge section that spans Collett Street at the west end of the project.
According to City Engineer David Schnelle, the western bridge is the larger of the two and is significant because it's in the location where the old subway walls were found to have significantly moved, which eventually led to the closure of the subway. He added that the steel on this bridge will span over Collett Street and three CSX and two Norfolk Southern railroad tracks.
The $18.5 million project, which was awarded to O'Neil Brothers Construction of Urbana, is expected to be done some time in the last half of next year. Funding for construction, engineering and design has come from a number of sources, including a $3 million bond issue by the city council in 2009 for engineering and land acquisition, $12 million in grade crossing protection fund assistance, $7 million in Illinois Jobs Now funds and $3 million in Federal Economic Development Administration funds.