A new ramp will soon carry drivers up to the Eisenhower Bridge that crosses the Mississippi River at Red Wing, a step closer to the bridge’s eventual replacement next year.

It’s part of the highly coordinated plan to keep traffic moving even as construction crews replace the 1,631-foot-long Eisenhower, which opened in 1960. The bridge was deemed “fracture critical” — meaning the loss of a key component could cause its collapse — and has been closely monitored by Minnesota Department of Transportation crews, said MnDOT construction manager Terry Ward.

Drivers can soon expect a new traffic light on Hwy. 61 where the new ramp forms a T-intersection with the highway. Drivers coming from Wisconsin will follow the ramp as it curves left to meet Hwy. 61. That’s a change from the old ramp, which curves to the right into downtown Red Wing.

Next fall, as bridge construction wraps up, construction crews will open a second ramp for drivers traveling from Wisconsin, one that will allow motorists to enter downtown directly from the bridge.

Drivers in Red Wing, meanwhile, will take Hwy. 61 south out of town to get to the intersection with the new ramp before taking it up to the bridge and across the river.

The $63.4 million Highway 63/Eisenhower Bridge project includes building a replacement bridge over the river, replacing the Hwy. 63 bridge over Hwy. 61, rebuilding approach roads and improving pedestrian and bicyclist crossings.

The new bridge will be a two-lane roadway with a separate, 12-foot-wide walking and biking path. Once it’s completed, crews will tear down the Eisenhower Bridge.

The lead contractor on the project is Zenith Tech. Work got underway last summer and carried on through the winter except for a short period in December when temperatures plunged.

A 2012 traffic study found that 13,300 vehicles a day crossed the Eisenhower Bridge.

Once the new bridge is complete, local officials will be able to turn off bridge lights during the mayfly hatching period. Mayflies typically congregate on lighted Mississippi bridges during hatches, and the bridge roads can become dangerously slick.

The state maintains a Facebook page for bridge construction updates. And there’s a video at youtu.be/84KoJnOzmxI.