by Max Brantley
Enough already. The morning Democrat-Gazette brings further evidence of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department's base intentions. It wants to tear down the existing Broadway Bridge and replace it with a functional piece of crap. Nothing more or less.
The latest news is the department's feeling that the old structure — if a recently floated and half-baked plan to keep it for city pedestrian use and build an ugly parallel replacement were to happen — wouldn't qualify for use of the $3 million in federal money saved on demolition. They don't have official word on that mind you. But without that money, the cities might be hard-pressed to take over conversion of the old bridge.
City leaders, it's time to tell the Highway Department to stuff it. Tell the state to take the federal bridge replacement money earmarked for this project and use it on the many other bridge projects. Then get cracking on the process of designating a new highway route for a new bridge crossing at Chester Street. Get the money for it in a future year. Build it. Then combine forces to convert the old Broadway Bridge into a world class plaza connecting major entertainment venues on both sides of the Arkansas River.
The "rising maintenance cost" dog just won't hunt as an argument for a rush to put a piece of junk on the river in place of the existing Broadway span. The cost is rising, but it's pennies in the great scheme of things and the cost is primarily aesthetic, dealing with concrete facade, not a matter of safety.
Must Little Rock and Arkansas always cheap out? Must dreams and big ideas always be put in the closet? Dallas did better, I'd add, with a significant contribution of private money. With all the cosseting city officials have done of local multi-millionaires, maybe it's time to aggressively press them for a tangible demonstration of thanks for a project that would lift us all symbolically, not to mention include a gorgeous entranceway over water to Dickey-Stephens Park.
Everybody could save some money, as County Judge Buddy Villines said eloquently yesterday, by shelving the North Belt Freeway plan and quit wasting planning money on a project that will never be funded. It's a developer's pipe dream to shuffle commuters over long distances. It's old-school thinking. There's a reason it has gone nowhere for decades. It's not a good idea. If I read the story in D-G right, there's $6 million right there for diversion to a better project. Like a futuristic bridge project.