Feb. 29 2012 12:00 AM

Last week thousands of Lansing Community College students and commuters dashing between the suburbs and their business downtown noticed an old wooden boat suspended by a crane 20 feet above the Grand River just north of the Saginaw Street Bridge. Work on the bridge had started just a few weeks earlier, and some people wondered if workers had pulled the boat from the water. Had they pulled out other things? Was there a trove of old Schwinn bikes for the Lansing Bike Co-op to salivate over? Perhaps a cache of carts from now-defunct L & L tossed in by misguided teenagers on energy drink benders? Maybe the lost treasure of the Lansing Bogus Swamp isn’t in the Westmoreland neighborhood after all?

Unfortunately for those with overactive imaginations, the answer to all of these questions is no.

“The boat is one of what the workers call ‘floating barges’ that are suspended on a crane to remove asbestos from the utility conduits underneath the bridge,” said Rob Morosi, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Taking out the asbestos is only the beginning. The M-43 Bridge Reconstruction, as the project is officially called, is the much-needed replacement of a deteriorating piece of Lansing infrastructure. According to the MDOT website, the bridge, constructed in 1928 and widened around 1955, accommodates 19,000 vehicles a day and is a main transportation artery for the city and Lansing Community College. The website, www.michigan.gov/mdot, confirms the experiences of many a spooked River Trail user with images of rusted metal struts, crumbling sidewalks, and deteriorating concrete supports.

The new bridge will decrease car traffic from five lanes to four lanes from Washington Avenue to North Cedar Street but will widen sidewalks on both sides of the bridge, widen the River Trail underneath, and raise the trail enough over the river that it won’t flood as often during rainstorms. These improvements should boost safety for decades to come.

As for those dreams of treasure getting pulled from the riverbed? Answers to those questions will have to wait a few weeks.

“Workers will assess the site from the river later in the spring. In early to mid-March they’ll knock the old bridge out and begin putting in the new bridge support system,” Morosi said. Beginning March 5, drivers will have to follow a detour onto Oakland Avenue, part of which will become two ways to accommodate east-bound drivers. Maybe then they’ll uncover some mysteries. Until they take the old bridge out, though, it’ll probably be best to steer clear of the asbestos.