by Max Brantley
The Arkansas Highway Department is suggesting that calamity awaits if local transportation planners don't submit to their desire to blow up the Broadway Bridge and replace it with a plug-ugly, marginally more functional bridge. If local planners don't go along, highway nabobs say, there'll be no annual transportation plan allowing expenditure of federal money in Central Arkansas.
Count me skeptical about this doomsday scenario.
The Highway Department's desires for the Broadway Bridge are impossibly injurious in the short run — closure for two years with a resulting traffic cluster**** downtown. Long term, we'd have an ugly bridge, wedged into the existing urban landscape without a thought for possible new ways of using the prime riverfront real estate.
Why not just leave the bridge out of the state plan this year? Let discussions continue for a better alternative — particularly a new river crossing upriver so that the Broadway Bridge could then be turned into a glorious High Line-style hanging park between Argenta and South Argenta. Put the project in the state plan when everyone is on the same page for action.
The mayors of Little Rock and North Little Rock have challenged the Highway Department on their long-held assertion that federal money must be spent now — on this bad idea — or not at all. Even if the mayors are wrong, the long-term is better served in use of tax money, wise urban planning and aesthetics by not rushing to the state's preferred alternative just because the highway engineers want to keep busy.
UPDATE: State Rep. John Edwards of Little Rock has been working behind the scenes on the issue. He sent this letter to the Highway Department urging a careful look at rehabilitation versus replacement, an interim suggestion by the mayors. He notes, too, the traffic disruption from closing the span. The letter doesn't mention, but he did in a comment to me, that the Broadway Bridge is frequently used by ambulances. Others have wondered how its closure could affect emergency response times. Adversely, would be my guess.