Casino exec: Bridge closure costs jobs, state taxes

Officials say closing a key Lake County bridge serving casinos, a steel mill and other businesses is costing the state
tax revenues amid other financial losses.

Majestic Star Casino Vice President Jason Gregorec told lawmakers at
a weekend public hearing that the company’s two Gary gaming boats laid off 40 employees last week as a direct result of business
lost from the closure of Indiana 912 and its bridge over the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal.

Gregorec says the state
of Indiana has lost $10 million in tax revenue from the two gaming boats. He says the overall value of the two boats has dropped
by $90 million.

Concerns over the mile-long bridge’s integrity led state officials in November to close a 4-mile
stretch of the highway, known locally as Cline Avenue, which provides a major artery to and from Chicago. It carries about
30,000 vehicles a day and serves the ArcelorMittal steel mill and Ameristar and Majestic Star casinos on Lake Michigan.

Speaker after speaker at the hearing Saturday told 14 state legislators that a new bridge must be built to replace
the condemned span.

"All of our economic development plans in the city of Hammond require that bridge,"
Hammond City Engineer Stan Dostatni said. "We want that bridge replaced."

However, a timeline provided
by Bob Zier, chief of staff to state Transportation Commissioner Michael Reed, indicates a solution is months if not years
away. Demolishing the current bridge is part of a list of top-priority projects that won’t be finalized until July, the timeline
showed. It provided no dates for demolition or new bridge construction.

Herbert Cruz, director of East Chicago’s
emergency management agency, said rerouting traffic from the highway means more trucks carrying hazardous materials on local
roads.

"Now, you have all these cars and semis carrying hazmat running through the heart of the city, past
schools and neighborhoods, and you have the real potential for something catastrophic," Cruz said.

Rep. Chet
Dobis, D-Merrillville, who moderated the forum, said Gov. Mitch Daniels and area legislators were working together on the
problem.

"There is no politics here," Dobis said. "The governor is a Republican and I’m a Democrat,
and we both want to get this done."

The Indiana Department of Transportation will hold its own public hearing
Feb. 9.

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