All four lanes of new Highway 61 bridge to be opened Saturday afternoon
Years and years of frustrations, backed-up traffic, terrible crashes, construction delays, construction marvels and gawking are about to be over.
On Saturday afternoon, it is expected that the new Highway 61 bridge over the Mississippi River in Hastings will be fully opened. Two lanes in each direction will zip over the bridge with hardly any construction orange in sight.
Doyle Honstad, the project manager with Lunda Construction, said he expects all four lanes of the new bridge to open in full on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s been pretty smooth,” Honstad said. “The weather has cooperated. Things have been moving right along.”
While delays hit the project hard at the beginning, things haven’t been nearly as rocky lately. The delays were no fault of the contractors – the project was slowed initially by high water and then by a state government shutdown.
“It feels good to have it (almost done,” he said. “There’s a real sense of accomplishment and pride in the skilled workers that have had such a commitment for three years. Between the Ames and Lunda guys, we’ve been working Saturdays and Sundays for the past two years trying to catch up after the flood.”
The new bridge will be officially dedicated at an event at 10 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 22, at City Hall. The event will take place in the city council chambers.
The dedication will include a short program with remarks from community members and leaders, project leaders and elected officials.
Dumped into the river
Early Monday, at about 4 a.m., one of the few remaining portions of the old Highway 61 bridge was dropped into the Mississippi River.
The event was captured on video by Hastings photographer Dave Youngren, who had gotten up at 1:30 a.m. to make sure he was on the scene to capture it.
Just before 4 a.m., he saw the bridge get knocked over and a few people who were watching at the time began to cheer.
“Do it again,” one person hollered.
“I chuckled to myself and thought, ‘Yes, let’s do it again,’” Youngren said.
Honstad said the decision to knock the piece over was made because of shallow water under that piece of the bridge. Crews used a barge to get under the Highway 61 bridge and support it while they cut pieces away. The shallow water, ranging in depth from one foot to eight feet, prevented a barge from getting under the final big section.
“Either we’d have to dredge that all out, or we had to do it the way we did it,” he said. “The environmental people thought it was better (to knock it over) than do a lot of dredging in there.”
‘Bridging the future’
The men and women who did the work in Hastings are embarking on a campaign to thank Hastings for the work.
Representatives of the Minnesota Laborers Union, other union trades and contractors are preparing to say “Thanks” for their “interest, patience and trust in letting them be an integral part of this historic project,” according to a press release issued by the Minnesota Laborers – Employers Cooperation and Education Trust. Ads are scheduled to be published in area publications and a month-long digital billboard ad has been taken out, too.
“Hundreds of Union construction workers, spanning eight different trades, had a hand in building this beautiful bridge, which links Hastings and other communities to St. Paul,” said Gary Reed, Laborers Union Local 132 Business Manager. “It’s a time to celebrate this achievement and thank all the people of Hastings for helping to see this process through.
“There was a lot of sacrifice associated with this project. Not only did the Union workers spend over 500,000 hours working on the structure-including some nights and weekends, when they could be with their families- we know the people of Hastings were inconvenienced somewhat too through the construction process. With modern technology, patience and hard work, we made it happen and this project is symbolic of what kind of good things happen when everyone works together. It is amazing that with modern technology and proper maintenance that this new bridge is intended to last 100 years.”