One can only hope the voting for the America’s Transportation Awards can go off without undue influence from any foreign power. Or Florida.
The Arkansas Department of Transportation is one of 12 finalists for the awards, which is sponsored by the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials, the AAA and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. ArDOT was recognized for the replacement of the Broadway Bridge [officially the Veterans Memorial Bridge] over the Arkansas River between Little Rock and North Little Rock.
The project is up for the Grand Prize, determined by a panel of judges, and the People’s Choice Award, which is selected by MTV viewers and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Wait, that’s wrong; the People’s Choice Award is given to the project that gets the most online votes.
Online voting started Aug. 21 at AmericasTransportationAwards.org. Those inclined can vote once per day through Sept. 21.
“We’re honored to be a part of this competition,” said ArDOT Director Scott Bennett. “In addition to being a memorial to our military veterans, the new Broadway Bridge is an iconic part of the downtown areas of Little Rock and North Little Rock.”
The Grand Prize and the People’s Choice Award each come with a prize of $10,000 for the winning transportation department’s charity of choice. Florida has won the last three People’s Choice Awards; Arkansas has never made the finals.
No projects from Florida made the final 12 this year. A spokesman for the AASHTO said more than 100,000 voted for the winning project in 2016, and 56,000 voted for Florida’s winning project in 2015.
“I can’t remember when Arkansas was this close,” said Tony Dorsey of AASHTO. “Can they win the big kahuna? That’s the question that needs to be answered. Hopefully Arkansas and its citizens will vote for it.”
The $98.4 million project was completed in 152 days. The engineering and planning included building the new bridge’s arches nearby and then floating them to the construction site so the old bridge could stay open as long as possible before demolition.
The bridge was designed by Garver of North Little Rock and subcontractor HNTB of Kansas City, Missouri. Construction was done by contractor Massman Construction Co., another Kansas City company.
The Broadway Bridge project won the America’s Transportation Award’s Southern regional competition for Best Use of Technology & Innovation for projects costing between $25 million and $200 million. The projects were judged by an independent panel of transportation experts on four criteria: benefits; quality process and results; customer focus; and economic benefit.
(I think most residents of Little Rock and North Little who ride in the 24,000 vehicles that cross the Broadway Bridge daily would rate customer focus pretty high because of the short closure time.)
The Broadway Bridge project has gotten other national attention. It received the Eugene C. Figg Jr. Medal for Signature Bridges earlier this year from the Engineers’ Society of Western Pennsylvania.
“We’re proud of everyone that was involved in the design and construction of the new bridge,” Bennett said. “They got the job done on time and only closed the bridge to traffic for 152 days. That’s quite an accomplishment. They have an opportunity to become the most popular transportation project in the country.”
The four highest-scoring projects in each region advanced to the finals regardless of the size or scope of the project. Arkansas is competing against projects small, medium and large in categories of innovation or community development or operations excellence and, for the Grand Prize, the independent judges decide solely on how effective the project was in fulfilling its mission.
While Florida has won five of the nine previous People Choice’s Awards, the Grand Prize winner has been more varied. Florida and California have won twice, but Missouri, Maryland and Utah have also taken first place.
“Size doesn’t matter now,” Dorsey said. “All that matters is whether or not the project is deemed by the judges to be worthy of the grand prize. It’s a whole new judging now. The judges will pick the one project in the top 12 that they feel best symbolizes excellence in transportation.”