North Stonington - It was a big day for the Old Town Hall Bridge - finally.
A crowd of about a dozen people gathered behind a fence at the site of the washed-out landmark Monday afternoon to watch construction workers offload eight enormous chunks of concrete onto their abutments. Each piece weighed about 46,000 pounds, said First Selectman Nick Mullane, and will form the bridge's new arch.
"It's pretty fascinating to watch. It's like Tinkertoys," said resident Mary Cooper, who has lived in town with her husband, Dick, for almost 30 years.
"It makes you smile as it goes together."
The Main Street landmark that connects the two sides of the road over the Shunock River was washed away by the March 2010 flood. With no temporary bridge and a Main Street split in two, town residents have waited nearly 2½ years to see tangible progress.
"It's been a while," Dick Cooper said as he watched the final stages of the installation.
A 300-ton crane with an "oversize load" sign was parked in front of Old Town Hall to hoist the pieces with thick cables over a power line and onto the site - an operation outsized enough for its quaint setting that cars slowed as they passed, gawking faces leaning out of windows.
The work began at 8 a.m. and wrapped up around 3 p.m., with the crowd cheering as the final piece slid into place, snapping photos on camera phones.
"It's a little light at the end of the bridge," Cooper said. "We're very happy. Things are moving along."
North Stonington endured several bureaucratic headaches on the road to rebuilding.The engineering and planning of the bridge had to be reviewed to ensure the Federal Emergency Management Agency would cover 75 percent of the nearly $2 million construction project.
With the bridge on the National Register of Historic Places, the town's historical society had to choose between using the original two-arch design or implementing one arch to accommodate more water flow; they eventually went with the latter. Red tape on the federal, state and local levels further delayed other steps.
And Hurricane Irene last summer wreaked havoc on the area, causing more damaging flooding.
The town finally signed a contract in January with Bristol contractor Mastrobattisto Inc.
"This is a nice little feat for the town of North Stonington," said resident Brent Woodward, who watched as the last arch piece was placed.
Woodward sits on the Board of Finance, which is facing the task of writing a fourth budget for the current fiscal year as taxpayers have voted down three previous versions. Woodward said the visual of the newly installed arch may ease residents' minds on where the money slated for the project is going.
"They were beginning to lose faith, maybe," he said. "This is something that will restore faith."
Mullane said the bridge is set to open Sept. 30. But while the placing of the arch makes a big visual impact, the restoration has a ways to go.
"There's still a lot of work," Mullane said. "But they're out of the hole. They're out of the water - that's the major part."