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Demolition of Red Wing Bridge over Mississippi River ramps up

Crews began lowering the massive center span of the old Red Wing bridge onto two river barges on Thursday. (Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Deparmtent )

Crews began lowering the massive center span of the old Red Wing bridge onto two river barges on Thursday. (Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Transportation)

MINNEAPOLIS — A big chunk of the old Red Wing bridge, spanning the Mississippi River between Wisconsin and Minnesota, is going down this week as part of a $63.4 million project to demolish the structure and build a replacement.

Crews began the methodical process on Thursday morning of lowering the massive steel center span of the bridge onto two river barges, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The bridge, which carried 13,300 vehicles a day on average, spans the river between Red Wing, Minnesota, and Hagar City.

Removing the center span, which will be cut apart and sold for scrap, is no small job. The 288-foot long, 39.5-foot tall section weighs more than 800,000 pounds – roughly the equivalent of 67 adult African elephants or 133 sport utility vehicles.

Mike Dougherty, MnDOT District 6 spokesman, said the work requires a good deal of coordination and oversight from contractors, MnDOT and third-party consultants.

“They have gone through the plans and have outside folks looking at it — running the calculations, reviewing it,” Dougherty said. “It really gets scrutinized.”

The work is being overseen by Zenith Tech Inc., of Waukesha. Besides demolition, the project entails the construction of the new Highway 63 bridge and approach roads, and improvements to bicycle and pedestrian crossings.

Built in 1960, the bridge carried Highway 63 over the Mississippi River for nearly 60 years. MnDOT switched traffic to the replacement crossing when that structure was opened last November. Construction work on the new bridge began in 2017.

The old bridge had maintenance needs that would have required “extensive ongoing investment,” according to a June 2015 report from MnDOT and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

MnDOT expects all the of the bridge’s nine spans to be removed by March 13. Demolition began this winter as crews stripped away the span’s concrete bridge deck. The concrete is being ground up and recycled, Dougherty said.

On Thursday morning, the demolition work took on the air of a spectator sport as curious members of the public gathered to witness the removal of the center span. Foreseeing a crowd, MnDOT set up a viewing area at nearby Levy Park.

Dougherty said a “cluster of people” braved single-digit temperatures early in the morning to watch as workers started cutting steel. At least one observer held down a spot at nearby Barn Bluff to get a bird’s-eye view, Dougherty said.

“A bridge doesn’t come down that often. There’s a lot of community interest,” Dougherty said.

With help from four special industrial jacks and platforms installed on the truss, crews were expected to lower the span at a rate of about 15 feet an hour, MnDOT said. The entire procedure, from bridge to barge, took about five hours.

The new bridge, standing 70 feet above the river, is officially called the Eisenhower Bridge of Valor. Its predecessor was also called the Eisenhower Bridge, though it was commonly known as the Red Wing bridge. Although the new bridge is up and the old one is soon to be down, the project isn’t complete. Work related to lighting, bridge aesthetics, approach roads, and bicycle and pedestrian crossings is still ahead in 2020, MnDOT said. That includes removal of a small temporary bridge over Highway 61 and a road that fed into the old bridge.

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