RED WING — Foot by foot and hour by hour, the center span of the old Eisenhower Bridge was removed Thursday, Feb. 6.
Crews used industrial jacks to slowly lower the the center span truss — that's the steel structure of the bridge over the Mississippi River — to an awaiting barge on the water below. The structure was lowered at a rate of about 15 feet per hour, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, a process scheduled to take about five hours to complete.
From there plans called for the bridge material to be taken ashore to be cut apart and carted off to a scrap dealer.
A steady flow of passersby watched the process upstream at Red Wing's Bay Point Park throughout the afternoon Thursday, pulling up in their vehicles for a few minutes or turning their heads as they drove by.
Among the onlookers was Ron Bystrom of Hager City, Wis., who stopped to snap a few pictures with his phone. The former Red Wing Shoe Co. employee said he was in attendance when President Dwight D. Eisenhower came to town in 1960 to open the old bridge.
MnDOT advised residents to keep clear of the construction area for safety.
With the main river span gone, crews will next work to remove the rest of the bridge structure using cranes, MnDOT says. Once that's done the old bridge's piers are marked for removal.
The new Eisenhower Bridge of Valor opened to traffic in November 2019. It was built immediately adjacent to the old bridge to ensure the crossing — the only river crossing from Hastings to Wabasha — would remain open during construction.
“The Highway 63 bridge at Red Wing serves as a vital link for communities and commerce in this region,” Mike Dougherty, MnDOT District 6 director of public engagement and communications, said in a statement in December 2019. “Having a safe, reliable crossing for all who use this bridge will serve this region for generations and allow businesses and communities to grow and prosper.”
The old bridge was showing its age. Following the Minneapolis Interstate 35W bridge collapse in 2007, the Red Wing bridge was added to the list of bridges marked for replacement. The cross-state truss bridge was labeled “fracture critical” by nature of its design, meaning the entire structure could collapse should a key component fail. That made the replacement project eligible for newly approved state funding.
A ceremony is planned to celebrate the completion of the four-year, $63.4 million project in August. The project also includes extensive alterations to approach roads on both sides of the river.