For children who live in the little town of Thomson, the trip to school and back got a whole lot shorter last week.
"Our granddaughter just got on a bus that comes across the bridge, and it's 20 minutes less time per ride for her," Ruth Jorgenson, Thomson's city clerk, said in a phone interview on Friday morning.
Jorgenson was talking about the difference made by the reopening of the Minnesota Highway 210 bridge that connects Thomson to the bigger town of Carlton, where a post office, banks, insurance offices, convenience stores, grocery store, hair salons, bars, restaurants and schools are located.
"The reason we live out here is the convenience of having Carlton there," said Hansi Johnson, who lives in Thomson, a residential village at the main entrance to Jay Cooke State Park.
The bridge, closed since June, reopened at noon on Wednesday, said Beth Petrowske, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
It was closed briefly again Saturday afternoon to allow for a ribbon-cutting ceremony formally celebrating the reopening of the 223-foot-long, two-lane bridge after a six-month project complicated by the June 19-20 flood.
Crews already had begun the $1.9 million refurbishment when the flood wreaked havoc along picturesque Highway 210.
Although the 1961 bridge survived, floodwaters from the Thomson Reservoir washed away the approach to the bridge, creating a cavernous gap on the Carlton side.
The floodwaters overwhelmed an 18-foot-diameter overflow pipe, Petrowske said. That has been replaced by a 110-foot-long bridge that expands overflow capacity from 254 square feet to 1,360 square feet.
"We're definitely in a much better situation than we were before," she said.
In essence, the crossing now consists of two bridges back-to-back.
"I actually think it looks kind of neat," Johnson said. "In the past you couldn't actually see the waterfall on the way to the dam. Now when you're driving through you're above it and looking out, and it's an unobstructed view."
The time the project took doubled from the three months planned before the flood intervened, Petrowske said. Cost of the project grew to at least $2.75 million. Not all invoices have been submitted or approved, she said.
While the bridge was closed, Thomson residents had to take County Road 1 to Interstate 35, follow the Interstate to Minnesota Highway 45 and take it into Carlton. During much of the summer, construction on I-35 made for an even longer detour.
"Right now it will take me five minutes or less" to get to Carlton, Johnson said Friday morning as he was about to head there for a haircut. "When the bridge was out, it would take 15 to 20 minutes."
With only one road in and out of town, residents felt isolated. "It was just like we were trapped," Thomson Mayor Larry St. Germain said.
There was another alternative: Johnson and his family sometimes went into Carlton on bicycles via the Munger State Trail, he said.
"That's what I did too," Jorgenson said. "But we have quite a few elderly who weren't able to do that."
Carlton businesses not only lost some of their traffic from Thomson. They also lost business from the park, which was closed by the flood until Oct. 22. Even after that, park visitors had to bypass Carlton and take County Road 1 to get to Jay Cooke. Only since the bridge opened have tourists been able to go through Carlton on their way to and from the park.
"We usually get a lot of tourists and a lot of bikers from there," said Rick White, owner of the Cozy Cafe in downtown Carlton.
"People like to go through (Carlton) to get to Jay Cooke," agreed Angel Carter, manager of the Little Store in Carlton. She reported that business "really went downhill" over the summer.
In addition to transportation difficulties, Thomson residents coped with intermittent water outages for months. The flood washed out the water and sewer lines that connect Thomson to Carlton. Temporary service was established quickly, but permanent service was restored just within the past couple of weeks, Jorgenson said.
If Thomson was a virtual island for the past six months, there was at least one advantage.
"The one interesting thing of the whole bridge-out thing was just how quiet our road was," said Johnson, whose family lives on Dalles Avenue. "We have a 4-year-old, and when the park's open and the bridge is open and certainly ... when 210 went all the way through ... it was a huge motorcycle route, for one thing. You're always a little nervous having the kid play in the front yard, and then with the road being out and the bridge being out, all of the sudden it was like being on a dead-end road, and the road was dead quiet."