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Bridge repair plan includes 24-hour closure

The summer of 2008 in Hastings is shaping up to be full of traffic, bright orange signs and brake lights.

Monday night, city officials and about 50 residents of Hastings heard the Minnesota Department of Transportation's plan for repair work on the Highway 61 bridge here.

While MnDOT officials made certain to point out no decisions on the work planned for 2008 have been made yet, the prospects of 24-hour single lane traffic on the bridge appear to be daunting. Residents here know full well what traffic is like when bridge inspections take place between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. in the summer. The project in 2008 would have even more impact.

MnDOT laid out two proposals at the meeting: 1) Full closure of the bridge for two to two-and-a-half months; 2) Single lane closure for three to three-and-a-half months.

In either case, emergency vehicles and school buses would take priority and would be able to readily cross the bridge.

Council members unanimously agreed that the single lane closure would be the lesser of two evils.

Anticipated traffic backups were laid out for the council. Estimates had cars on northbound 61 backed up to 18th Street. For southbound traffic, cars were estimated to be backed up to Highway 10.

The detour would send northbound traffic to Highway 52 via Minnesota 55. With Minnesota 55 already at or near capacity, the detour would result in bumper-to-bumper traffic, said MnDOT engineer Ken Johnson.

Other roadways would be significantly impacted. It is believed that Fourth Street would be closed at Highway 61, for example.

Time frame

MnDOT expects to get bids on the project in late January or February. They were expecting work to begin in the summer. Mayor Paul Hicks asked that the project be moved up to March or April to save some of the summer.

That would be a possibility, Johnson told council members.

Crews would be working 22 hours a day on the bridge, and the bridge would be down to a single lane 24 hours a day. Each side of the bridge would have a stoplight in place, and a flag operator would also be present.

The cost of the repairs is estimated at $2.6 million. Approximately $1.3 million of the project budget would be for painting.

Johnson said he hopes to meet with officials in neighboring communities to tell them about the project. He said details on the project need to be decided on by the end of October or early November.

The work

Much of the work that will be done will be painting in order to prevent corrosion. The deck of the bridge and the underside of the bridge will be painted. On the deck, the "splash zone" will be painted. That's the 10-foot-high area from the deck and up that corrodes the fastest because of the salt spread during the winter. The beams also need to be painted on the inside to prevent corrosion from the inside out.

A bearing that allows the bridge to expand and contract has failed on one of the piers, and that needs to be replaced.

The sidewalk will be replaced in some areas and patched in others.

The south approach (the area directly above Second Street) will see considerable work to repair unsound concrete.

What business owners say

The Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce presented the council with nearly five pages of e-mails from business representatives in the community. Most, but not all, said they preferred the single lane closure.

A new bridge?

Many council members brought up their displeasure that a Hastings bridge replacement has been continually delayed. Johnson told the council that a new Hastings bridge was in MnDOT's 20-year plan, not the 10-year plan.

Council Member Danna Elling Schultz said she wished the meeting on Monday had to do with bridge replacement and not bridge repair.

Elling Schultz said she remembers hearing more than 15 years ago that Hastings was set to get a new bridge soon. Hearing that Hastings was 10 to 20 years away from a new bridge shocked her.

"I'm flabbergasted," she said.

Council Member Ed Riveness echoed Elling Schultz's comments. He said he remembers conversations in the early 1990s.

"It's already been almost 20 years" since those conversations, Riveness said.

Council Member Tony Alongi asked which bridge projects have been placed in line ahead of the Hastings bridge.

Johnson said the Lafayette Bridge (which carries traffic on Highway 52 into St. Paul) and the Cayuga Bridge (on Interstate 35E) are both considered to be of higher priority.