Communities celebrate link: Vermillion, Newcastle break ground for bridge construction

Communities celebrate link: Vermillion, Newcastle break ground for bridge construction Participating in Saturday's groundbreaking ceremony for the Newcastle/Vermillion bridge are Sy Kneifl of Newcastle, co-chairman of the Newcastle/Vermillion Bridge Corporation, Sara Bergan, a representative from Sen. Tom Daschle's office, Elsie Lund, village clerk of Newcastle, Russell Fleury, Dixon County (NE) supervisor, John Kingsbury, commissioner, Nebraska Highway Commission, John Craig, director, Nebraska Department of Roads, U.S. Congressman Doug Bereuter, (R-NE), U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, (D-SD), Dr. James Green, Vermillion, co-chairman of the Newcastle/Vermillion Bridge Corporation, Jerry Sommervold, chairman, Clay County Commission, Vermillion Mayor William Radigan, Randy Harper, executive director of the Vermillion Development Company, Darrell Curry, Dixon County (NE) supervisor, Tom Week, region engineer, South Dakota Department of Transportation, and Jim Jenssen, retired deputy director of the South Dakota Department of Transportation. by David Lias "This is a wonderful day."

That comment, made by Vermillion Mayor William Radigan at the beginning of a special ceremony Saturday at the National Guard Armory here adequately summed up the feelings of the 400 people in attendance.

They gathered west of Vermillion Saturday morning to take part in a groundbreaking ceremony that formally recognizes the start of construction of the long-awaited Newcastle/

Vermillion Bridge over the Missouri River.

They then gathered in the armory for a more formal ceremony featuring speakers from both sides of the river. The celebration concluded with a meal of barbecued pork sandwiches provided by Texas Bar-B-Que.

"We look forward to many, many get-togethers with you," Radigan said to the out-of-town guests at the ceremony.

Radigan noted that flooding in the late 1800s forced Vermillion townsfolk to rebuild the town on its present site, on bluffs above the Missouri River.

And ever since that time, he said, people have argued that Vermillion is a three-sided community.

"We've had a trade territory to the east, to the west and to the north," Radigan said, "but the south has been blocked by the Mighty Missouri."

Hard work by the Newcastle/Vermillion Bridge Corporation, he said, is what has turned the idea of spanning the river with a bridge into a reality.

The bridge will help bring more people to Vermillion to seek medical services, shopping, and education at The University of South Dakota. But most importantly, he said, it will help northeast Nebraskans and southeast South Dakotans form new friendships.

"The bridge will become a crucial link for agriculture, education, health services, commerce, and tourism," said Elsie Lund, village clerk of Newcastle.

She noted that the bridge represents a century-long dream, including the formation of the Newcastle/Vermillion bridge committee in April 1988.

"It is good to see so many people here as part of making history," she said. "I invite all of you to the dedication ceremony on the Nebraska side."

It took Newcastle residents more

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than an hour to travel to Vermillion Saturday. Lund noted that South Dakotans will only have a six minute trip to make to attend the dedication ceremony, thanks to the new bridge.

Nebraska Congressman Doug Bereuter told the audience that local people, through their persistence, deserve the credit for making the bridge construction a reality.

"I was fortunate enough to have a good working relationship with Congressman, now Senator Tim Johnson, and we could work on the Niobrara Bridge and make that a reality, and we could begin work and start on the process of making the bridge between Newcastle and Vermillion a reality," Bereuter said.

The people of northeast Nebraska, he added, are very much like South Dakotans.

"They are good people, energetic, interested in progress, but northeast Nebraska people are a little bit different than other people in my district and state," Bereuter said. "They have a heavy concentration and focus on family and religion, and they are very independent and self-reliant. They don't ask much from federal and state government."

Bereuter said he is certain that the Newcastle/Vermillion bridge will have an impact on more than the states of Nebraska and South Dakota.

"It will become a major north/south transportation route from the south," he said, eventually providing a route to Interstate 29 near Vermillion and easier access to such metropolitan areas as the Twin Cities in Minnesota.

"This will be a bridge that generates far more traffic than either of the state highway departments can now scientifically or economically justify," Bereuter said. "So they went on trust, and they supplemented it with funds from the two respective states."

The bridge and connecting roadways was authorized under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991.

Funding for the project was included in the ISTEA and in later transportation bills through 1998.

Design work began in 1991, cost estimates were completed in 1993, and an environmental assessment was completed in 1994.

The preliminary design was completed in 1995, and the final design was reached in 1998.

Bids for the project were let in April 2000.

Work began last May, and will be completed in the fall of 2001, perhaps as early as Labor Day of that year.

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