'It's worth celebrating': Winona's historic bridge to reopen Monday following ceremony
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'It's worth celebrating': Winona's historic bridge to reopen Monday following ceremony

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Winona Bridge

The historic interstate bridge, seen here from the Mississippi River last week, will re-open to traffic Monday following a ceremony featuring local, state and federal officials. The $145.9 million project, which included construction of a new bridge, started in 2014 and will be completed six months ahead of schedule.

After more than a decade of repairs and restoration, the historic interstate bridge will reopen to traffic Monday on time and ahead of schedule.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Mayor Mark Peterson on the eve of the rededication. “I think it’s worth celebrating.”

The rededication Monday signals the close of a $145.9 million project that broke ground with the construction of the new interstate bridge in 2014 and the restoration of the old bridge beginning in 2016.

The ceremony, which will begin at noon at the foot of the historic bridge, will include speeches from Gov. Tim Walz, U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn, state Sen. Jeremy Miller, state Rep. Gene Pelowski and representatives from the offices of Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith. The Cotter Brass band will perform the national anthem, and Ken McCullough will read a commemorative poem.

The project’s completion, which was originally slated for December, comes nearly six months ahead of schedule. For this, city administrator Steve Sarvi credited the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Ames Construction and the cooperation of Mother Nature.

“I think it really shows the experience Ames brings to the project,” he said, adding that for at least two years the construction season was extended by unseasonably warm winters.

Since it was closed to traffic in 2016, the 77-year-old span has undergone a transformation.

Free of toxic-lead paint and complete with new approaches and a sturdy new deck, the iconic bridge is stronger than ever, city officials say.

“I think they have done a great job on it,” Peterson said. “Working with MnDOT has been a pleasure.”

But not too long ago, the heavy steel span was on the verge of disaster. In 2008, after the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, MnDOT closed the bridge after discovering it had been dangerously weakened by rust and corrosion.

Many Winonans, including Peterson, remember how the closing reverberated through the community, forcing many who would normally cross the bridge on their way to and from work to take a lengthy detour or wait for a ferry ride.

Now, with the completion of the new interstate bridge and the reopening of the original 1942 bridge, Peterson said Winonans will never have to go through that again.

“The 1942 bridge has been beefed up and re-stabilized for 2019, that’s very cool,” said city councilwoman Pam Eyden.

While the bridge will reopen Monday, workers will be finishing up site work around the bridge this summer. This includes a re-imagining of the space under the bridge.

Nestled in the bridge’s shadow is a new park filled with greenery, curving sidewalks and park benches.

Eyden said she’s interested to see what kind of programming the city’s park and recreation department will come up with for the space.

“It’s cool to go under the new bridge now,” she said.

Peterson agrees.

“I hope there is possibly some artwork or events that can be held down there,” he said. “It’s a cool visual space.”

Tobias Mann covers crime and government in Winona County. He can be reached at 507-453-3522 or at tobias.mann@winonadailynews.com

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