A major construction project is moving along in the east metro now that the Minnesota Department of Transportation has shut down the old Highway 61 bridge in Hastings to make way for the new one that traveled down the river it will soon carry drivers across.
Crews floated a large chunk of the bridge down the Mississippi River on Saturday, and people lined up to see construction history made in Hastings -- but the drama isn't over yet.
"It's kind of history in its making. Everybody's down here. I got a great spot," Marcie Freeman told FOX 9 News.
Freeman got up before dawn to get her front-row seat along the river's edge, and dozens of other people came out to marvel at a masterpiece on the Mighty Mississippi.
"It's beautiful to me," she said. "Overwhelming, I guess. Kind of breathtaking, because as it got closer, you realized just how large it was."
Large is an understatement. The four-lane bridge span and arch are massive, weighing in at 6.5 million pounds. Crews floated it on barges hundreds of feet down river as they slowly put it into position while onlookers watched in anticipation.
"Sat here on pins and needles -- is it going to make it? Is it going to shift? The water was kind of rough. It's like, 'Oh, just please make it!" Freeman said.
Luckily, MnDOT spokeswoman Kirsten Klein said it was smooth sailing for the bridge.
"It went very smooth. It was kind of like a parallel parking job, kind of fitting it into place with a six-and-a-half-million pound piece of equipment basically, and a couple of tugboats," she explained.
Now, crews are slowly chugging along at the task of attaching the span to a rail system. Next, they'll lift it up to meet the piers.
Kenneth Haglund, of Apple Valley, watched the old Hastings Bridge go up as a boy -- but he says this is even better.
"I think it's pretty neat," he said. "I'm interested in all the lift mechanisms."
The heavy lifting is expected to start Sunday night, and Freeman said she may not get much sleep but knows the show will be worth the wait.
Even after the span gets into place, there is still a lot more work to be done. Drivers won't be able to cross it until next spring, when the lanes open to traffic. The whole project won't be complete until 2014.
The old Hastings Bridge will reopen to traffic in time for rush hour on Tuesday morning.
WTTG FOX 5 & myfoxdc
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