The busiest two-lane bridge in Minnesota is about to be replaced. And Richard Darsow is among those saying good riddance.
"It's a bottleneck," he said. "It's to a point where you hate to go across it."
A groundbreaking ceremony is being held Wednesday for a new Hastings Bridge, whose white arch will spell the eventual demise of the aging High Bridge that spans the Mississippi River.
Accelerated after heightened concern following the Intestate 35W bridge collapse, construction of the $120 million replacement, west of the existing bridge, is to begin in October and be done by 2013. The old Hwy. 61 bridge will remain open in the meantime.
Community reaction is quite different from what happened in the late 1940s, when the historic Hastings Spiral Bridge was proposed to be replaced. Several residents and community organizations in the river town lobbied to try to preserve part of the landmark.
The High Bridge, though -- a pale blue freckled with orange rust -- has been rated one of the worst in the metro area. Mayor Paul Hicks says it needs to go. "It's too obsolete for our community," he said. With just a lane in each direction, traffic headaches are not uncommon.
The new bridge will have four lanes and a 12-foot-wide pedestrian and bike path.
"We won't have to get up early in the morning to find out if there has been an accident and the bridge is closed," the mayor joked.
The old Spiral Bridge suffered a similar fate in not keeping up with modern times, said Darsow, the city's historian.
That bridge, built in 1895 of steel and wood, was meant for horse, wagon and pedestrian use. The introduction of automobiles seemed to seal its fate, Darsow said. As the bridge aged, firetrucks were too heavy to use it, and drivers were arrested if their buses exceeded the 4-ton load limit, according to the Dakota County Historical Society.
"There were people who closed their eyes when they went across, and there were people who wouldn't cross it. ... It was scary," Darsow said.
But the Spiral Bridge, which circumvoluted into the Hastings downtown, also wound its way into the hearts of the residents.
"You probably can go into any household in Hastings and find a picture of the Spiral Bridge," Hicks said, exaggerating just a bit.
Illustrations of the demolished bridge decorate several downtown businesses. Even though RJ's Tavern, located in the shadow of the current bridge on 2nd Street E., is branded with a mural of the Hwy. 61 bridge on its side, it's the Spiral Bridge that has left a lasting image.
"Most people talk about the Spiral Bridge," said Andy Storkamp, a bartender at RJ's. "It was a little more unique than this one," he added.
Like the Spiral Bridge, the new bridge will be a visual standout, said Steve Kordosky, the project manager with the Minnesota Department of Transportation. When completed, it will be the longest tied-arch bridge with a free-standing arch in North America, he said.
"There's a history of bridges in Hastings that date back to the Spiral Bridge," he said. "Their bridges have always had unique qualities. ... It was the intent of the project to mirror the history of bridges."
The bridge will feature artwork depicting Hastings history as well as aesthetic lighting, Kordosky said.
After the collapse of the I-35W bridge in 2007, higher priority was given to replacing the aging bridge. Similar to the 35W bridge, the Hastings bridge is fracture-critical, so if one load-carrying part breaks, the whole bridge could fall.
Mayor Hicks, who said he has supported replacement of the bridge for years, is excited about the new construction.
"Much like the bridges in the past, this one will also be a landmark bridge," Hicks said. "It will be a bridge that not only the people of Hastings would be proud of but also the people of Minnesota."
Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495