It might have seemed a bit like an early Christmas at the construction site for the Friday as workers celebrated a milestone in the $163.7 million project.
The final steel girder, a massive beam weighing 110 tons and measuring 200 feet long, was lifted into place around 8 a.m. This is the last piece of steel connecting the Portsmouth and Tiverton sides of the new span.
The workers celebrated Friday's milestone with an ironworker tradition — placing a small, fir tree and American flag in the final girder.
"It's a little emotional," said Hilda Mullen, who has watched the entire project unfold from her front yard, only several feet from the bridge.
"I didn't want it (the bridge) at first. I still don't really ... but it's been interesting to watch. You can't say it hasn't. You have to accept what you can't change."
Mullen, who has lived in her home since 1982, applauds the Cardi employees and ironworkers for the hard work she's seen. "The guys who work on this bridge, work hard," she said.
To date, the workers have installed 112 tub girders weighing a collective 12 million pounds. They have also installed 13,000 cubic yards of concrete piers to hold the bridge in place.
Also on hand to watch the milestone were Stephen Cardi of the Cardi Corp. and Frank Corrao, deputy chief engineer.
"It's a challenge for these guys to be out here in the winter," Corrao said. "The wind child here in the winter is harsh."
The harshness will be faced in the next few months if site officials seek to meet the ambitious May 2012 completion date. The construction timeline is about 140 days behind schedule, which site officials hope to make up during the winter months, providing there are no major storms.
"They hope to make up for that time," said Bryan Lucier, Department of Transportation spokesman.
Lucier said one interesting thing about the new bridge will be the embankments created on both ends, a design feature which is said to save the state money in the long run.
"The new bridge is shorter due to the embankments," Lucier said. "This will save money on bridge maintenance. Maintaining a road is much cheaper than fixing a bridge pier."
The new bridge will feature a smoother riding surface, two lanes of traffic in both directions and a pedestrian walkway.
There's also one thing the new bridge will not feature, according to the DOT. The new bridge will not include space for .
"It's not in the plans," Lucier said. "We're not putting them in."
The old Sakonnet River Bridge will eventually be demolished. However, the contract for its demolition has not been signed to date.
"It's something we'll look at much further down the road," said Lucier.
The next steps in construction include bolting and welding the girder in place, which will be done Friday, and pouring concrete.