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A massive lift, massive relief - Bridge crews worked long hours, drank 50 gallons of coffee and ate 10 gallons of chili

Late Sunday night, a member of the team of builders working on the new Hastings bride left the work site to go on a quick break.

As the man, Jerry Volz, reached Second Street, he saw a car pull up along the roadside.

Inside were two people, a husband and wife. They were each in their 70s and they told Volz they had gone to bed early Sunday. They set their alarm for 10 p.m., then woke up, loaded up their car with their dog and drove to the river to watch all the action unfold as the main span for the new bridge was lifted in place overnight.

The weekend was full of stories like this one, all of them adding up to show just how significant the lift was.

Everything got started here Friday, as crews moved the 545-foot main span into the center of the river channel. By Saturday morning, the span was floating downstream, covering a half-mile to its destination.

It was then slowly maneuvered into place over the next 36 hours using a unique rail system that helped position the span exactly below the four enormous jacks that would do all the lifting.

By Sunday evening, it was in place and the 216 cables extending from the jacks were attached to the bridge. Then, right around midnight, the lift began. By 2:30 a.m., the span was, for the most part, fully lifted.

Crews then got to work to secure the span in place.

At 11:50 a.m. Monday, the old Highway 61 bridge reopened to traffic.

Through it all, the Hastings community turned out by the thousands to watch. The event was so popular, in fact, that a mini donut stand sought a permit from the city, then set up shop at Jaycee Park to give the crowds something to munch on while they watched.

At least one person even ordered pizza from Spiral Pizza in Hastings so that they didn't have to leave their spot.

While there were big crowds, police had no incidents to report. Several agencies helped out the Hastings Police Department with security, which was beefed up along the river all weekend long.

"People were great," Hastings Chief of Police Paul Schnell said. "They were very cooperative and understanding of the challenges that were created because of the road closure. We had no incidents of any consequence. It seemed to work quite well."

The department had been hard at work to develop a plan for security for the past few months.

"We had planned for nearly every contingency that we could conceive of," Schnell said. "That's what you have to do - plan for the worst and expect the best. In this case, the very best is what we got."

The estimated total for all the security involved with the project is $70,000. That includes the water patrol, the ground patrol, the traffic work and a helicopter, among other things, over the four to five days (including the rollout on Sept. 7).

All of that $70,000 will be reimbursed by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

"The city bears no direct cost," Schnell said. "We invested a lot of time, effort and energy into the planning and we aren't reimbursed for that, but in terms of the actual personnel who were out there, that's all reimbursed. That's part of the overall project cost."

Schnell is among the city leaders who are happy the project was pulled off successfully and went off without a hitch.

"It was really positive," Schnell said. "You saw the excitement of the people who came down to watch. Obviously, everybody would have liked to have been there when the big lift was happening, but it turned out to be a nice community event. It speaks to the importance of the bridge to this community."

Long hours

For the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the contractors (Lunda/Ames) and the movers (Mammoet), getting the move and the lift complete is a huge relief.

Steve Kordosky, the MnDOT project manager, said this on Wednesday:

"It's very good to have the structure up on top of the piers there in its final location."

Kordosky said that once Monday morning came and traffic was running on the current bridge again, he drove home to "relieve some stress," as he put it.

Many team members had worked very long days, including Doyle Honstad from Lunda Construction. He said he simply went home and went to bed. He finally surfaced on Tuesday, but spent his time away from the bridge chasing a white ball around a golf course.

The project

After the float downstream went well Saturday morning, crews got to work to get the bridge loaded on the rails that would guide it directly under the jacks.

That work took about 36 hours.

At around 9 p.m., crews were putting a load onto the jacks and the lifting system, but they didn't lift it up. Some surveying was done on the piers to see how they were affected by the all the weight. Engineers then determined that all four strand jacks needed to be adjusted and moved about an inch and a half toward the river. The load was slowly put back on the jacks, and then the lift began at about 11:20 p.m. Sunday. By 2:15 a.m., the 50-foot lift was completed.

Crews opted to do the lift overnight because of the favorable weather conditions at the time. Strong winds were forecast for Monday, so they had to get it in place as quickly as they could.

Once the lift was complete, some very critical work began to take place.

Once the span was lifted, support beams had to be slid under the span to secure it. The beams had to be adjusted, so the span was shifted about an inch to allow the beams to fit perfectly in place.

Honstad said there wasn't much room for error with the project. The span measures 545 feet long and 104 feet wide. At each of the four corners of the span, there was a quarter-inch of tolerance.

"We knew it was tight," Honstad said. "Our numbers said it should fit. When you're talking about trying to get four pins in that far apart, it's a daunting task. If there was going to be a problem, I could have seen a major delay there, but it went very well."

Up next for the project will be the pouring of four concrete knuckles on each corner. Temporary tie girders are in place now under the main span. They will be removed and the permanent ones will be poured. All that will take place within the next six weeks.

The roadway, or bridge deck, will be poured April 8, 2013, and one lane in each direction of the new bridge will open to traffic in mid- to late-May. Once traffic is routed onto the new bridge, the current bridge will be dismantled. The first order of business will be taking down the part of the old bridge that is in downtown Hastings. Once that is removed, crews can build the final piece to the new bridge, the northbound approach. It will take about three months to fully dismantle the current bridge.

The new bridge will be fully opened with two lanes running in each direction in mid-December of 2013.

Coffee, chili and pulled pork

For the contractors working on the project, it was obviously a big weekend as well. Some 50 people were hard at work at any given time, and a large tent was set up underneath the bridge in downtown Hastings for them to get a break and warm up overnight when temperatures slid into the 30s.

Consulting engineers, construction workers, teams of people from the company responsible for the move (Mammoet) and the like all gathered in the tent to be fed and get refreshments, too.

Volz, the vice president of the structures group for Ames Construction, said that the team of workers ate 35 pounds of pulled pork from Duff's Meats 2, they at 10 gallons of chili from Emily's Bakery and Deli and they drank 50 gallons of coffee from Panera Bread in Hastings.

"We relied heavily on the local community to supply all that stuff," Volz said. "Emily's provided a mean chili, and that pulled pork from Duff's was a big hit, along with their hamburgers and brats."

The team even went through 288 cookies from Panera.

"They were all just outstanding," Volz said. "They fed the troops and kept everybody happy."

The tent was in operation 24 hours a day.

"We pretty much kept something there for everybody to eat drink all day," Volz said. "Whenever anybody came in at any time of the day, we had something for them to eat or drink."

Volz also thanked all the local law enforcement personnel who secured the site.

"They really did a great job with the crowd control," he said.