PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A historic project is happening right now in central South Dakota.

A decades-old bridge that crosses over the Missouri River between Pierre and Ft. Pierre is being replaced.

Jeff Newling stopped in a nearby parking lot to get a look at the project before heading to work.

“Just curious,” driver Jeff Newling said.

Crews are replacing the Lt. Cmdr.. John C. Waldron Memorial Bridge.

“He played a critical role in the Battle of Midway, in fact really turned the tide and helped American forces win that battle. Unfortunately, he lost his life as did most of his squadron,” SDDOT Chief Bridge Engineer Steve Johnson said.

Johnson says the Missouri River crossing was built in the early 60s with an expected lifespan of about 50 years.

He says the structure is still safe today, but it’s time for a new one.

“At this point, it’s much more economical to replace the bridge than it would be to try to repair it and maintain it,” Johnson said.

Now, a barge carrying machinery floats right next to the current structure as crews work on the new four-lane bridge.

Partners at the local state and federal levels are all playing a role in the project.

Project official says the new bridge will be more pedestrian-friendly compared to the current one.

“The existing pedestrian path is very narrow. In fact, it’s almost impossible for people to pass as they go by,” Johnson said.

Eventually there will be a 12-foot path and bumpouts so people can look out over the river.

“Both cities, Pierre and Ft. Pierre, have chosen to develop areas under the ends of the bridges, so they’ll both have some nice plazas, some park areas where people can get together and enjoy the river, enjoy each other’s company,” Johnson said.

Pierre Area Engineer for the South Dakota Department of Transportation, Dean VanDeWiele, says the bridge will become an attraction.

“I think what you’re going to see is tourists, commuters, locals alike are going to congregate here. You’re going to see a place that outdoor enthusiasts, river enthusiasts love to be. I can see this being a stop, a regular stop on people’s drive passing by, drive throughs, and trips across the country on a family vacation,” SDDOT Pierre Area Engineer Dean VanDeWiele said.

Newling has some concerns about the traffic impact, but he thinks the final product will be a nice addition to the area.

“I’ve seen the plans for the new bridge, so it should be pretty cool,” Newling said.

Project officials say they’re confident the traffic impact will be minimal.

Here’s what drivers need to know.

This year, one westbound lane will be closed intermittently.

Next year, both westbound lanes will be closed, and the other side of the bridge will have one lane traffic in both directions.

During that time, vehicles that are oversize will take a detour up to the Oahe Dam.

All lanes of the new bridge, which will be named after the late Lt. Cmdr. Waldron, are expected to be open by the end of 2022.

The old bridge will be demolished in 2023.