BURLINGTON — Behind the gray clouds and spitting rain, there was a silver lining shining down Thursday morning on the Port of Burlington. Or maybe, it was a weathered-steel lining.

Despite the chilly temperature and rain, several hundred BNSF workers and community representatives met at the Port to celebrate the completion of the new BNSF railway bridge over the Mississippi River.

The bridge was replaced in a two-part construction project. The first phase replaced the swing span with a vertical lift span that more than doubled the width of the navigation channel. The second phase replaced the approach spans.

While the weather sent Thursday’s celebration indoors, it did not dampen the spirits of those gathered to support the project and its completion.

“This is not just a bridge across the Mississippi,” Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said. “It is a bridge to the future. It’s a bridge to a more efficient and competitive economy here in the Midwest and nationally.”

Harkin was instrumental in acquiring federal funding for the new bridge, which Matt Rose, chairman and chief executive officer of BNSF Railway, said cost $150 million.

The “wrench-ready” project was begun in November 2009 and most of the work was completed by last spring.

Rep. Dave Loebsack of Iowa’s 2nd District added his support for the project shortly after being elected to Congress. He said his support came after Des Moines County Sheriff Mike Johnstone literally gave him a first-hand look at the safety issues of the bridge during a boat tour after the 2008 flood.

“I felt like it was a safety issue for the train crews, obviously. But the bigger picture is it needed attention, and it needed to be replaced,” Johnstone said of why he chose to show the bridge to Loebsack during what was purported to be a tour of Des Moines County’s levee systems.

Loebsack was applauded for mentioning the importance of another infrastructure project that would benefit Iowans if the public and private funds could be put together to see it completed. That project is the expansion of U.S. 61 to four lanes between north of Burlington and the Muscatine County line. The work is is in the Iowa Department of Transportation’s five-year plan.

Loebsack’s challenger for the 2nd District seat, Republican John Archer of Bettendorf, was unable to attend the dedication. But he sent a message that read:

“I believe that public-private partnerships are vital to the long term fiscal health of our nation. The United States continues to see stagnant economic growth, while the federal government continues to spend more than a trillion dollars more than we are bringing in. These partnerships will help get our fiscal house in order and at the same time allow for help with our nation’s crumbling infrastructure, despite the dysfunction in Congress.”

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