by Jeff Hankins
Posted 8/6/2012 12:00 am
Updated 2 years ago
If you haven't noticed, we have quite a hang-up with bridges in the Little Rock metro area. For those who aren't familiar with the assorted bridges, here's my best shot:
- Two Rivers Bridge - The newest $5.3 million bridge for walkers, runners and cyclists, all of whom report really enjoying it. The fancy lighting at night is very cool to see while traveling over the Interstate 430 Bridge.
- Big Dam Bridge - The $16.5 million structure over Murray Dam that makes kids giggle when they say it. Those same runners and cyclists enjoy it as long as dogs haven't left deposits.
- Broadway Bridge - This is the worn-out bridge connecting Little Rock and North Little Rock. The state wants to tear it down and says a run-of-the-mill, functional replacement is the only real option. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorial page and the mayors want to either build a fancy, more expensive bridge, or keep it as yet another pedestrian bridge to accommodate the multitudes who regularly want to get from Robinson Auditorium to Dickey-Stephens Field.
- Interstate 30 Bridge - This is the traffic nightmare at almost any hour, but particularly at rush hours and midday.
- Clinton Presidential Park Bridge - This one, which cost $10.5 million, is next to the Clinton Presidential Center and handles all the overflow pedestrian traffic from the Main Street Bridge and the Junction Bridge.
- I-430 Bridge - This is the Little Rock gateway to Conway, Maumelle and Burns Park soccer games, and vice versa. It's either free flowing or totally clogged on any given afternoon, so you're always 20 minutes early or 20 minutes late to anything. It offers the best views of the Two Rivers Bridge and the Big Dam Bridge.
- Chester Street Bridge - This is the one that doesn't exist but that sounds to some like a swell idea for how to get a bonus bridge out of the state Highway Department and federal funding. The primary appeal is to allow downtown commuters to escape the horrors of being without the Broadway Bridge for a couple of years.
Actually, as I've written before, I think the vision for the cycling and running trail along both sides of the Arkansas River has been amazing. We just need to see the payoff in terms of local activity and tourism, and we don't need to get carried away with the concept when so many other needs exist - particularly in Little Rock, which lacks adequate youth sports facilities.
And while everyone stays worked up about the bridge options, the Metroplan board decided to essentially table the North Belt freeway project for another 30 years. Yes, the single best hope for alleviating the I-40/I-30 interchange nightmare and opening new business and residential development is basically dead for yet another generation.
But back to the bridges issue.
The Arkansas Highway & Transportation Department is funded mostly from federal dollars, not state dollars. Bureaucrats in D.C. dictate how and when those dollars can be spent. Following federal guidelines, the department developed a plan to replace the Broadway Bridge.
Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola and North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays appropriately weighed in with concerns and options. The Highway Department shot them down based on cost and federal guidelines, and now it's a battle between a powerful, independent state bureaucracy and a couple of mayors. Highway Department engineers who have studied the options for months are being thrown out of the equation in favor of an out-of-state engineering firm that spent a few weeks developing a plan that the cities wanted to hear.
The Highway Department's job must be to maximize limited resources for highway and bridge construction. Contrary to the Democrat-Gazette's wishes for an extravagant new bridge, no government has that luxury anymore.
And Chester Street? It's impossible to justify another bridge considering all the other needs of the metro area. We don't need yet another pedestrian bridge. The short-term inconvenience of being without the Broadway Bridge will be awful - much like the current Big Rock interchange project at I-430 and I-630 - but that doesn't justify losing the federal funding or the additional construction expenses. Businesses and government can address some of the traffic issues through temporary, staggered work schedules.
The best news in all this is we don't have to contend with a tunnel under a bay that takes six-lane interstate traffic to just four lanes. We'll leave that headache in the hands of Mobile, Ala., city leaders. If you've been to the Gulf Coast this summer, you know what I'm talking about.