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Associated Press, Published June 01 2013

Hastings to say goodbye soon to landmark bridge

HASTINGS, Minn. – Residents of Hastings soon will say goodbye to a landmark bridge.

The U.S. 61 bridge has spanned the Mississippi River for six decades. But by late Tuesday, all traffic will be diverted off the old steel truss-style bridge and onto two lanes of a new $120 million tied-arch-style crossing. Although closed to traffic, the old bridge which opened to traffic in 1951, won’t leave Hastings’ landscape quite yet.

Crews will begin dismantling about 400 feet of the old bridge’s south end Wednesday. But Minnesota Department of Transportation project manager Steve Kordosky said work on removing the arches and the rest of the bridge won’t start until late August.

Hastings Mayor Paul Hicks said seeing the bridge go will bring mixed emotions for many residents, including himself.

“We’ve had a lot of memories of that bridge,” said Hicks, who grew up in Hastings. “We’ve had a lot of people that have traversed that bridge. It was important and historical when we built the Spiral Bridge in 1895, and then when we built the current bridge, too. And now we’ve seen it come and go.”

Hicks and other leaders plan to memorialize the old downtown bridge with a farewell event Tuesday. If the weather cooperates, the city hopes to allow people to walk over the bridge one last time in an official procession led by a hearse and bagpipes.

Shortly after the event, the contractor will take possession of the bridge and begin the process of dismantling the landmark.

MnDOT was not allowed to implode the bridge into the river because of environmental concerns brought up by other agencies, Kordosky said.

Work crews are scheduled to switch one southbound lane of traffic onto the new four-lane bridge late Monday. One lane of northbound traffic will move over late Tuesday.

All four lanes of the new bridge, including a walking and biking path, should be ready for traffic around December, Kordosky said.

For resident Dave Youngren, who has painted two murals of the current bridge around town, the bridge closing will be bittersweet.

“I’m sad to lose her, but I think the new bridge looks really nice and will be really great for Hastings,” Youngren said, noting the extra two lanes will ease congestion.