MADISON, Ind. (WDRB) -- The Milton-Madison bridge carrying U.S. 421 over the Ohio River reopened to traffic at 7:18 p.m. Thursday.

Traffic resumed after a closing since mid-March during the process to slide a new bridge deck on refurbished and existing bridge piers.

Construction had been underway since a groundbreaking in November 2010.

"This was just an amazing project to watch," said Madison, Ind. Mayor Damon Welch, who is breathing a sigh of relief.

"It's exciting," Welch said. "You can see the people going across and we've got a brand new bridge on the permanent approaches which is fantastic."

The bridge closure was more than just an inconvenience for Nathan Montoya, who owns Village Lights Bookstore.

"It's just been really, really rough so we are delighted that the bridge is open," Montoya said.

During the bridge closure, Montoya says his Kentucky customers have been nonexistent.

"To be honest, there were a couple months we didn't pay ourselves so I know it's been rougher for others in the community who have dipped into their retirement. It has been really hard."

Madison resident Matt Webster says without the bridge, some of his employees had to tack on an extra three hours to their commute.

"We operate a pretty big company in town and a lot of our employees of course work in Kentucky -- it's been a real inconvenience. They've had to adjust their lifestyle especially in the last month having to drive to Markland or make other arrangements," Webster said.

Thursday night, residents celebrated by driving across the new bridge.

"Just this being closed for about a month, it shows how important this bridge is to Madison and Milton. It's the gateway into Kentucky and Indiana so we're very thankful," Welch said. 

The reopening means trucks can use the bridge for the first time in many years. Special weight limits are now lifted.

Drivers must obey a 20 mph speed limit because crews still have some construction work to finish. The work includes completion of the pier caps, removal of the temporary piers, installation of measures to protect the refurbished piers and some painting.

Transportation officials in Indiana and Kentucky say the nearly half-mile long bridge is the longest bridge to be "slid" into place in North America and perhaps the world. Workers slid it 55 feet from temporary piers onto the original, refurbished bridge piers.

"It's a great day for the citizens of Madison and Milton. Hoosiers and Kentuckians alike are to be commended for patiently waiting to see the bridge in its permanent home and to resume driving across it," said Indiana Gov. Mike Pence in a news release.

"Today marks a major milestone in what has truly been a historic project," said Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear. "Watching the bridge slide into place last week was incredible. The community should be proud of being part of engineering history."

The 30-million pound new steel truss bridge is 2,428-feet long and 40-feet wide with two 12-foot lanes and 8-foot shoulders –- twice as wide as the old bridge. A 5-foot-wide cantilevered sidewalk will be added to the structure this summer. The original Milton-Madison Bridge opened in 1929.

Click here for more information on the project.

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