The long wait is almost over.

Construction on a new Highway 61 bridge in Hastings should begin this fall, although some preliminary work such as utilities could begin yet this summer. The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) announcement last week that it has awarded the contract to build the new bridge to the Lunda/Ames team for its tied-arch bridge design culminates years of work by city, state and federal officials to replace the existing bridge.

If all goes according to schedule, permanent construction will begin this October, with all four lanes of the new bridge and associated roadways open to traffic by May 31, 2013.

The Lunda/Ames design-build team was one of three joint ventures competing for the contract. The other two joint venture teams were Flatiron/Kiewit and PCL/Kraemer.

"Our team is excited about the opportunity to partner with MnDOT and the local communities for the design and construction of this landmark project for the residents of the Hastings area and the traveling public," said Dennis Behnke from the Lunda/Ames team.

"The contracting process was competitive, with all teams pursuing different bridge styles," said Steve Kordosky, MnDOT project manager. "Two of the bidders bid on the tied-arch design, and one bid with a cable design. Lunda/Ames with its tied-arch design is awarded the contract based on the strengths of the overall proposal in delivering the best value."

Hastings Mayor Paul Hicks is pleased to finally be at this point.

"I remember when I ran for mayor four years ago, I talked about the bridge being replaced," he said.

There had been many calls in to MnDOT, but the word from the department was the earliest a bridge could be replaced, because of budget constraints, would be at least 2018.

"To see where we're at from that point is mind-boggling," said Hicks. "Unfortunately, we had a tragedy with the (I-35W) bridge collapse. But that drew attention to the infrastructure concerns with our bridge. That was important.

"Then, secondly, the legislature passed the gas tax and overrode the governor's veto," said Hicks.

The funds were now available, and working with the state and federal government, the process moved along to the announcement last year that the Hastings bridge would be replaced.

"So the short-term inconvenience is for the long-term investment," Hicks said.

Hicks is happy that as part of the bridge there will be a plaza underneath it on the south side.

"That will enhance the community and provide increased parking," he said.

He is hopeful, too, that the contractor will hire some general laborers from the area.

So is Rep. Denny McNamara, Republican, Hastings.

"This is exciting news for us," he said. "We're moving ahead and I'm hopeful the contractor continues to move in an expedient and efficient manner. It will be good to see the cranes moving down the river, and it looks like the city is close to a deal with H.D. Hudson to move them from the area.

"We are in the middle of construction here , but it is exciting. I'm glad to have it moving forward."

Council member not a fan

of design

Second ward city council member Joe Balsanek is not a fan of the tied-arch design.

He wrote a letter to MnDOT officials and area elected officials.

The letter read:

"I hate this bridge design. It looks ugly and boring. There is nothing exciting about this design at all.

"The piers have a common 'slickness' that looks like any underpass we've all seen on any interstate highway.

"The arch is bland and whimpy, like so many other spans that dot the landscape. This design does a terrible disservice to the dynamic and historic legacy of Hastings, and, by association, Minnesota.

"Is this what Minnesota has become? When the bridge is complete our city and our state will have just another bridge. God forbid that for the same price, MnDOT could put forth an architectural gem that shows the boldness, innovation and daring of a society that says to the traveler of roads and rivers, 'You have crossed a symbol of progress and our vision of what we can be.'

"The only good thing about this bridge design is that it will only be around for 100 years.

"As a public servant I feel as though I've been duped. All the people's comments and suggestions fell on deaf ears. MnDOT, for all the time it spent on open houses, public hearings and discussions with city officials, community leaders and taxpayers, ran nothing more than a dog-and-pony show. I don't like being used. You blew it, MnDOT. You are squandering the people's money to the tune of $120 million dollars.

"The cable bridge, which would be the first of its kind, an architectural gem, on the upper Mississippi, could be built for the same amount of taxpayer money.

"This arch bridge is not the people's bridge. This is MnDOT's bridge. The people spoke and you didn't listen. The tail just wagged the dog."

Lunda proposal

The Lunda/Ames team scored 93.22 out of a possible 100 points on its technical proposal, with a best value bid of $119,830,890, well below the $220-million cap MnDOT set for the project scheduled to begin this fall.

All three potential contractors submitted lower-than-expected cost bids according to a MnDOT summary sheet.

FlatIron/Kiewit had a technical score of 94.29, with a cost bid of $159,359,000;and PCL/Kraemer had a technical score of 87.11, with a cost bid of $134,149,000.

Project manager Steve Kordosky said the bids were very competitive.

The best-value bid is a combination of the technical scores and the design/build (cable or arch bridge design) costs. Updates on the bridge project will continue to be posted on MnDOT's website.