HASTINGS, Minn. - Some cities have high bridges. Hastings' bridges have always been high interest.
How else do you explain Cary Nygaard standing along the Mississippi river from 6:30 a.m. until suppertime, with a pair of binoculars and a backup camera, in case his primary camera fails.
"This is a chance of a lifetime," says the Hastings retiree.
Nygaard was among hundreds of people who flocked to the river's edge Friday to watch the slow motion move of the main span of Hastings' brand new bridge, from the river flats where it was built, to a barge for the journey down river.
If all goes as scheduled, the new span will be lifted into place on next Wednesday, filling the gap between the approaches, all 545 feet of it.
"They better have 'er right," smiled Tony Alleven as he watched from the river's edge, "because it will be a little late if it don't fit."
Not to worry says Kirsten Klein, public affairs coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. "It will definitely fit. It's actually built just a little bit smaller than what that space is."
Wednesday's activity will force the closing of the current bridge to all traffic for up to 72 hours.
The crowds should be even larger, but already on Friday police set up traffic control to deal with the spectators. That so many people are interested should come as no surprise. Hastings has long relationship with its bridges.
The city's iconic spiral bridge, built in the 1890s, served the city for more than half a century. It is celebrated to this day in business names such as "Spiral Pizza" and on the letterhead of the city of Hastings.
"It's something that really made Hastings stand out," says Assistant City Administrator Melanie Mesko Lee. "I think people identified the uniqueness of our community. I think the bridge represented that."
The sky blue 1951 replacement made its own mark. "It's a landmark, when you see the bridge you know you are in Hastings," said Mesko Lee.
The new bridge was designed to be architecturally significant too - just don't call it orange.
"No it's terracotta," corrects Klein, with a laugh. "Clay colored maybe."
The color was chosen to meld with the brick-façade-character of Hastings' historic downtown. Several Hastings residents said it would take some getting used to.
"I kind of hope that they realize it needs to be blue - that's just Hastings," said Jenny Siebenaler as she photographed the new main span from down the shore. "No, ready for a change," disagreed Christine Sedan, standing nearby.
The new four lane bridge should be open to two lanes of traffic by early next summer. The other lanes will be finished after the current bridge is demolished.
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