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Bridge work in Hastings enters key phase

Submitted photo.

Construction continues and preparations are under way throughout the city in anticipation of a big couple days for the new bridge here.

Crews are busy assembling the main span for the new Highway 61 bridge over the Mississippi River. The span, weighing some 6.5 million pounds, will be floated downstream right around Labor Day. It will then be jacked into place.

Thousands of people are expected to come down to the riverfront to watch the massive structure get moved, and the Hastings Police Department has been working on a plan to determine where to put them all. Parking will be at a premium, obviously, and police will aim to keep people out of the way of the crews.

The firm moving the bridge down the river, Mammoet, will begin the project by slowly moving the span from the construction site near the lock and dam down to the river, a distance of about 200 feet.

Work is underway now on the platform that will be used to roll the span down to the river.

Once the span is at the river bank, the shipping industry along the river will be shut down for about 48 hours as the span is loaded onto two barges. The barge will then be pulled out of the channel so shipping traffic can resume long enough for barges to get to St. Paul and back, about 60 hours. Once they all make it through, the channel will be shut down again, and the bridge will be floated downstream.

At 545 feet, the span is the longest tied arch bridge with a free-standing rib in the western hemisphere.

Once the span is in place, there will still be considerable work remaining, but by May of 2013, one lane of traffic in each direction will be routed onto the new bridge.

Once traffic is on the new bridge, the old bridge will be dismantled, and crews will be able to construct the final piece of the project, the two northbound lanes over downtown Hastings. Crews can't build those now because the current bridge is in the way.

The span was painted in recent days. The span is now a color called terra cotta.