So, I was a little suspicious when the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department announced — surprise! — that maybe it could replace the Broadway Bridge without taking it out of service for two years and creating hell downtown. After resisting earlier entreaties for an alternative location, the department suddenly said this week that it could build a new bridge alongside and then convert the old bridge to a pedestrian span, at a lower cost maybe.
Local officials will mull over the idea. It will create an architectural disaster, that much is clear. A new bridge upriver and a truly fine pedestrian mall at Broadway after its completion is the far better resolution. But the highway department fears it must take and spend available federal money now or risk never getting it again. With Tea Partyers lurking, this isn't as crazy a notion as it might seem.
Anyway, I asked for any internal department documents relevant to the evolution of a new bridge design. I'm about to dump on you everything I got. I think I can boil it down to this essence:
The Highway Department actually studied years ago two alternatives to build a Broadway replacement alongside the existing structure, but demolition and replacement was deemed the preferable course. A plan to put the replacement on the east side couldn't be done because it would have endangered an archaeological site. When local officials began objecting to a closure of the bridge for as much as two years because of economic impact, highway officials said they were obligated to reconsider the old alternative, a new replacement on the west side. And so it was rolled out this week, after being drawn up two years ago.
Have some time? You may want to browse through the following documents and drawings responsive to my FOI:
The March 2010 drawings that show the alternative now under discussion.
The March 2012 pitch from local mayors for an upstream replacement bridge and the department's response on why it wouldn't work.
Documents from 2011 that made it clear — though there's been some confusion about what local officials knew and what they said about it — that an extended closure of the bridge was anticipated.
A Jan. 2011 letter to local officials on design.
A May 2012 memo on costs of a new approach.
A 2012 memo that indicates work underway to make sure the replacement bridge isn't "functionally obsolete" by not being wide enough for uses anticipated in today's standards.
A document on how construction could affect an existing levee in North Little Rock.