Union members say ‘thanks for the work’ on Hastings Bridge

A billboard will celebrate completion of the new Hastings Bridge.

A billboard will celebrate completion of the new Hastings Bridge.

When the new Hastings Bridge, which carries U.S. Highway 61 across the Mississippi River, opens all four lanes to vehicles tomorrow after two years of construction, traffic-weary residents won’t be the only ones celebrating.

Union members who built the $130 million bridge are joining in ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremonies, and one union joined their contractors in launching a public-relations campaign to thank area residents for their “interest, patience and trust in letting them be an integral part of this historic project.”

The Minnesota Laborers-Employers Cooperation & Education Trust (LECET), a division of the Minnesota Laborers Union, celebrated completion of the new bridge with advertisements in area community newspapers and a month-long digital billboard display close to the bridge in downtown Hastings.

The ads highlight the bridge’s history, as well as the collaboration between skilled workers and union employers to promote worker safety during the construction project.

“Hundreds of union construction workers spanning eight different trades had a hand in building this beautiful bridge which links Hastings and other communities to St. Paul,” said Gary Reed, business manager of St. Paul-based Laborers Local 132. “It’s a time to celebrate this achievement and thank all the people of Hastings for helping to see this process through.”

Reed and other union leaders hope the popularity of the new Hastings Bridge spurs public support for tackling necessary repair and replacement projects for bridges statewide, an initiative unions and partner groups like the Minnesota Transportation Alliance plan to push in the 2014 legislative session.

Lawmakers approved funding for the new Hastings Bridge after the old bridge was categorized as unsafe by the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Still, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, 9.1 percent of bridges in Minnesota – a total of 1,190 bridges – are structurally deficient or obsolete.

Replacement projects for many structurally unsound bridges lack or are awaiting local aid or legislative action for funding. Meanwhile, MnDOT is projecting a $50 billion funding shortfall for necessary projects over the next 20 years.

“Current funding sources for maintaining or even expanding Minnesota’s infrastructure of roads and bridges are simply just not adequate anymore,” Transportation Alliance Executive Director Margaret Donahoe said.

“We know there are many communities that have the similar infrastructure needs like Hastings, and our skilled workforce stands ready to help fix those assets too.”

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