Onlookers watch as the Madison-Milton bridge is slid the final few feet onto its new home atop the reinforced piers that held the old bridge.  Bridge officials say they hope to reopen the bridge sometime next week. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Onlookers watch as the Madison-Milton bridge is slid the final few feet onto its new home atop the reinforced piers that held the old bridge. Bridge officials say they hope to reopen the bridge sometime next week. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Bridge project officials and area residents called Thursday a "historic occasion" for Madison and Milton, Ky. - a day that's been anticipated since bridge construction began nearly three years ago.

Construction crews completed the longest steel truss bridge slide in North America - and possibly the world - after sliding the new Madison-Milton bridge to its permanent location on top of refurbished piers.

The superstructure slid the last few inches to its permanent home around 4 p.m.

It took about 16 hours over two days to slide the 30-million-pound steel truss.

Walsh Construction project manager Charlie Gannon said crews had expected to slide the bridge in one day, but winds kept crews from making the progress they had hoped.

"What occurred today is what we really hoped would have happened yesterday," Gannon said.

Strong wind gusts halted the slide around 4 p.m. Wednesday after workers had moved the truss about 16 feet. Workers had battled direct western wind gusts that hit the structure throughout the day.

"That's a lot of surface area for the wind to start pushing against," Gannon said.

Jacking strands pulling the truss on the east side began to relax slightly.

"We're talking millimeters here," Gannon said.

Still, construction officials wanted to make sure the jacking strands pulled the nearly half-mile bridge evenly, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet spokeswoman Andrea Clifford said.

"You want everything to go at the same rate," she said.

Crews worked throughout the night to bring in materials from the Louisville-Southern Indiana Ohio River Bridges Project and add additional restraints to the bridge. The additional steel pieces welded to the downstream side of the bridge allowed workers to lock down and secure the bridge while the jacking continued.

Strong winds continued Thursday, but the gusts struck the structure from the southwest and weren't directly out of the west. The bridge slid the remaining 39 feet in about eight hours.

Even with a few setbacks in the project, Gannon said Walsh Construction was still very proud that it was able to keep a bridge open for the majority of the construction process. Other plans had called for the bridge to be closed for nearly two years.

Crews now begin the process of securing the bridge on refurbished piers. Gannon said workers will begin to install restraints today by welding the bearings onto masonry plates.

Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Will Wingfield said crews will work to finish welding, bolting, concrete work, guardrail installation and painting lane stripes before opening the bridge to traffic. Bridge inspections also will take place in the coming days.

Gannon estimated the bridge could reopen to traffic in five or six days.

Officials expect to the bridge to reopen late in the day because of the $25,000 in liquidated damages being assessed against Welsh Construction for each calendar day the bridge is closed, Wingfield said.

"We're going to open (the bridge) to the public as soon as it's safe to cross," Wingfield said.

After the bridge opens to traffic, Walsh crews plan to take down the temporary piers, pour concrete pier caps, clear construction areas and install a sidewalk on the downstream side of the bridge even after the bridge open to traffic.

The bridge sidewalk is expected to be completed sometime this summer.