by Max Brantley
The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department floated a surprise new proposal today for replacement of the Broadway Bridge. It would, in short, preserve the old bridge while building a new bridge along the west side. The old bridge then could be converted to a pedestrian/bike path. The plan would avoid the problem of closing the bridge for construction for up to two years. There might be a brief period of closure — say three weeks or so — to transition from an old bridge to the new one for auto traffic.
Two highway commissioners met with Mayors Mark Stodola and Pat Hays and County Judge Buddy Villines and members of local planning agencies.
Concerns were identified about the discordant appearance of two stylistically different bridges, one, the new one, six feet higher than the other. "Butt ugly," is how one participant described the concept to me. The cities also were concerned about their costs to maintain the old bridge, which would pass into their ownership. Cost estimates are somewhat flexible on the new, surprise plan. It would curve into Broadway on the Little Rock side. The construction would interfere at least temporarily with parking for the Dickey-Stephens baseball park in North Little Rock.
The mayors of Little Rock and North Little Rock had been pushing, instead of a 24-month closing, to build a new bridge at Chester Street and then convert the old Broadway Bridge to a pedestrian link. The Highway Department said that idea was too cumbersome to accomplish without endangering federal money currently obligated to the replacement project. Highway officials said they thought they could get this new project underway in time to still qualify for the federal money. Some money allocated for demolition of the existing bridge could be used for rehab of that bridge for other uses, it was noted. That could be $3 million in savings.
Local officials were surprised by the proposal. They'll have to do some study before forming a firm reaction and had a number of questions at today's meeting. There were no renderings of the project to consider today, but some drawings of the route were shown and I hope to have some to show before long.