What a year, eh? The RiverTown newsroom looked back on 2020 to compile lists of the most important news and sports stories covered by the Star-Observer and Republican Eagle. Check back to Top 10 Stories of 2020 over the next few days to see what made the cut.

RED WING — After four years and more than $60 million, major construction on the new Eisenhower Bridge of Valor came to a close in 2020.

The new bridge over the Mississippi River, which opened to traffic in late 2019, was built alongside the old bridge to keep the vital crossing open to traffic. The existing span was removed in February, lowered foot by foot, hour by hour to barges on the water below.

Material from the old bridge was taken to a pit in Wisconsin for recycling, with some pieces going to the Goodhue County History Center.

The new bridge was built to last, according to Red Wing City Engineer Jay Owens.

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“This bridge has a 100-year design on it,” he said on a tour in November with Red Wing Area Chamber of Commerce staff and community members.

Jay Owens, left, city engineer, discusses the overlooks on the Eisenhower Bridge of Valor during a community tour of the bridge on Nov. 6, 2020. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia
Jay Owens, left, city engineer, discusses the overlooks on the Eisenhower Bridge of Valor during a community tour of the bridge on Nov. 6, 2020. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia

One of the key factors in making sure the bridge lasts is the footings for the piers.

“The main piers, where you see the spires sticking up above the bridge, are on what is called drilled shafts,” Owens said. “They are large shafts drilled all the way down until they got to bedrock, and then they drilled five feet into bedrock.”

On the Minnesota side, the two main shafts are 12 feet in diameter and were drilled 60 feet deep. On the Wisconsin side, there are four shafts that are nine feet in diameter, and they were drilled down 120 feet to reach bedrock.

The first lower pier on the Minnesota side caused some special concerns. Instead of using pile drivers which might create vibrations and damage historic downtown buildings or Barn Bluff/He Mne Can, construction crews built spread footings to support the weight.

“The spread footings are massive concrete footings to spread the load out,” Owens said. “These are quite expensive to do, but it protects what we have on the Minnesota side.”

Nearly completed, the Eisenhower Bridge of Valor over the Mississippi River at Red Wing, Minnesota, is photographed from the air Sept. 16, 2020. Photo by Sally Shepherd and Dave Pavonka
Nearly completed, the Eisenhower Bridge of Valor over the Mississippi River at Red Wing, Minnesota, is photographed from the air Sept. 16, 2020. Photo by Sally Shepherd and Dave Pavonka

The new Red Wing bridge sees about 12,000 vehicles per day, according to Owens. For that amount of traffic, two lanes will be adequate for many years. By comparison, the Hastings bridge handles upwards of 28,000 vehicles per day with four lanes. Owens said if it ever becomes necessary to have four lanes, the additional two lanes could be added in the space occupied by the previous bridge, and connected to the roadways on both ends.

The spans of the bridge are supported by three steel tub girders which are 65 feet above normal river level, leaving enough room for tows and barges to pass underneath. Using the steel tub girders also allowed the designers to eliminate the truss system used on the previous bridge.

“It is easier to look up and see Barn Bluff not having the truss system above the bridge,” Owens said. “From the bridge it is also easy to have a good view of the levee wall and the floating dock.”

The bridge also has features for pedestrians; a walkway runs across the full length of the bridge and has two overlooks with benches.

The project encountered several weather and water level related setbacks over the years, but it was completed largely on schedule. It also was announced in March that a contractor was hospitalized for an unspecified injury.

Waukesha, Wisconsin-based Zenith Tech was the primary contractor on the project. It was a joint venture by the Wisconsin and Minnesota transportation departments, city of Red Wing and Federal Highway Administration.

Some minor work and a public ceremony to celebrate the completion of the project, delayed due to the pandemic, are planned for the new year.

In the meantime, MnDOT published an interactive website chronicling stories and people behind the new bridge at https://exploreeisenhowerbridgeofvalor.com.