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Almost time: MnDOT sets June 5 as target date to open new bridge to traffic

The new Hastings bridge is pictured here alongside of the current bridge. Traffic will be routed to a portion of the new bridge on or about June 5. One lane in each direction will be opened, with all four lanes opening in late November or early December. (Star Gazette photo by Chad Richardson)

It won't be long now.

Traffic will be routed onto the new Hastings bridge on or about Wednesday, June 5, according to project manager Steve Kordosky of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

At first, there will be one lane of traffic in each direction. The bridge won't open in its entirety until late November/early December.

"We've been working pretty hard to keep things on schedule," Kordosky said. "The schedule we have now will get traffic on the bridge on June 5. I would fully expect that we'll be demolishing the existing bridge starting the next day. It will be a busy summer coming up."

The deck for the new bridge has been poured already and crews are now working hard to finish the new railroad bridge just north of the river. The snowy conditions this spring certainly haven't helped crews.

"From a grading perspective, it wasn't cooperative weather," Kordosky said. "We lost quite a few days this spring."

Crews are also working to move the power cables and phone cables that run under the current bridge. They'll be moved under the new bridge, and because of that, there will be some overnight lane closures late this week.

The barrier

One part of the new bridge that isn't sitting well with business owners north of the bridge is the closure of all left turn lanes. A concrete median is going to run from the top of the Highway 61 hill all the way into Hastings, ending at Third Street.

"There was a collective concern between MnDOT and our elected officials regarding traffic safety on that stretch of Highway 61, and closing the left turn lanes and providing a barrier addressed those safety concerns," Kordosky said.

Since the left turn lanes have been closed, a number of traffic changes are in the works.

King's Cove Marina is among the businesses that will be significantly impacted by the changes. Right now, a traveler coming from the north is able to make a left turn into Hub's.

With the barrier, that will no longer be possible, obviously. Instead, that southbound traveler will exit Highway 61 near Hub's Landing and will travel under the new bridge, looping around before rejoining Highway 61. The motorist would travel about a quarter of a mile on Highway 61 before turning right into Hub's.

It's just as complicated for someone leaving Hub's who wants to get to Hastings. The motorist will have to turn right and head up the hill, eventually using a new U-turn lane that MnDOT will soon begin constructing. The U-turn will be located at the top of the hill. Drivers would make that turn and head down Highway 61 and into Hastings.

Bill King of King's Cove said he doesn't understand how this change makes things safer for motorists. The left turns at his business haven't caused any of the high-profile fatal crashes in the area, and he questions how having a truck pulling a boat making a U-turn onto a two-lane highway where the speed limit is 60 mph is any safer.

Kordosky, though, said that the nearby stoplight at highways 61 and 10 will give anyone wanting to make a U-turn enough time to do so.

"We're pretty comfortable with that," he said. "There's a stoplight there, and we see that as the opportunity for a vehicle to make that U-turn -- when the stop condition occurs on southbound 61."

Complicating that, though, is the fact that when southbound traffic is stopped, drivers coming to Hastings from Highway 10 are turning left and heading south.

Several alternative plans were studied for the area by MnDOT, but this was the one they determined to be the safest.

Speed limits for the area haven't been set yet. A number of tests will be done once the project is completed. Kordosky said he'd expect the speed limit to be at about 60 as drivers head down the hill. He expects the speeds to be lowered gradually, finishing at about 40 mph as drivers cross the bridge.