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Published: 6/23/2007

Officials hail Veterans' Glass City Skyway at bridge dedication

BLADE STAFF
Keith Watson and his son Jerry, 6, of Oregon, Ohio, admire the Veterans' Glass City Skyway bridge. Keith Watson and his son Jerry, 6, of Oregon, Ohio, admire the Veterans' Glass City Skyway bridge.
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Standing or sitting on a bridge that tomorrow will be filled with moving traffic, state and regional elected officials today officially dedicated the state s new I-280 bridge across the Maumee River.

The ceremony lasted for well over an hour, as elected officials and union leaders hailed the Veterans' Glass City Skyway, the political and community leaders who pushed for it, and the men and women who built the bridge.

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, speaking about the bridge as a symbol for Toledo, Lucas County, and northwest Ohio, said: "This wonderful city that we look out upon, in this wonderful region, in the great state of Ohio, is central to all that we try to do to make Ohio move forward to create opportunities for all of Ohio s citizens."

"And I say to the congresswoman [Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo)] and to the [Toledo] mayor [Carty Finkbeiner], and to all of the political leaders, state and local, that there is no more The Other Ohio. This part of Ohio is central to what is Ohio," Mr. Strickland said, using the term used to describe parts of the state that don t wield the same political clout as the Three Cs Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus.

Several speakers, including Joe Blaze, business manager for Ironworkers Local 55, paid tribute to the workers who lost their lives during the bridge s construction.

A gantry truss crane collapsed in February, 2004, killing ironworkers Mike Phillips, 42; Arden Clark II, 47; Robert Lipinski, Jr., 44, and Mike Moreau, 30, and injuring four others. And last April, a fifth worker, Andrew Burris, 36, a carpenter, was killed when a platform collapsed.

The memories of those workers were commemorated through a moment of silence and a wreath with five flowers that stood for each worker.

"We will never forget the ultimate price [they paid], nor will we forget their families," Mr. Blaze said.

Surviving familiy members of the workers who died during the bridge s construction were called up to the podium and greeted with a round of applause.

In the midst of his praise for the bridge and the people who built it, U.S. Sen. George Voinovich called for the need of more federal money to complete the U.S. 24 "Fort to Port" project, as well as for the widening of State Rt. 2 and U.S. 20.

Senator Voinovich told Governor Strickland during his speech that he would either be the chairman or vice chairman of the 110th Congress s transportation and infrastructure committee and was going to "work with [Governor Strickland] to make sure we get the money we need."

Carrying cameras, American flags, and bottled water, thousands of Toledo area residents proudly walked across the Veterans Glass City Skyway this morning, just ahead of the dedication ceremony.

Some 65 buses looped around the bridge site to transport the crowds to what many called a "historic event."

"It s a once-in-a-lifetime thing," said Dave Brown of Toledo as he sat on one of the black chairs set up on the span of the bridge. He was wearing a "Toledo Veterans Glass City Skyway" T-shirt. "I ve got two of them," he said.

Governor Strickland, speaking at a breakfast for dignitaries held in the nearby Marina District, called the new bridge, "this incredible structure."

"We are here to celebrate something that is . . . the culmination of intelligence, commitment, investment, and hard work," the governor said.

Many of those who arrived in the first wave of early visitors were veterans or relatives of veterans. Some waved small flags in honor of fallen soldiers, and several Oregon and Toledo residents said they plan to participate in the parade this afternoon.

Roseanne Babiuch, of Toledo, said she was excited to finally be able to see the bridge up close - after keeping a close eye on its construction.

"It s neat," she said. "We ve been watching it for years and I ve been driving back and forth under it for years. It s finally fun to be on top."

An Jumei, who is from China and is a graduate student at Bowling Green State University, also described seeing the bridge as a once-in-a-lifetime event for her and her family.

"I heard there was a big ceremony and this was a really great work," she said. "I wanted to come see it and I wanted my daughter to experience it."

People started showing at 7:15 this morning to line up so they could be on the first bus to the bridge at 8 a.m.

Among the invited guests this morning were several people who were involved in the naming of the bridge.

One of those people, Harley Weide, of Sylvania, who is a WWII veteran, had nominated the name Glass City Skyway.

"Back then it was just an artist s conception in the paper. This was more than a bridge. This was a highway to the sky," he said.

The Dedication was followed by a four-mile race/walk at noon, and a motorized parade of veterans groups and labor organizations at 12:30 p.m.

The $237 million Skyway will open to traffic tomorrow. This might be the only day the bridge is open to pedestrians, and by the size of the early crowds, thousands and thousands of people are taking advantage of the opportunity to click photographs and capture memories.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com.



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