Highway officials postpone opening Broadway Bridge
Rain delayed project, state agency says
The state’s top highway official says the new Broadway Bridge won’t open to traffic this week after all.
The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department announced Wednesday the bridge over the Arkansas River between Little Rock and North Little Rock likely would be completed to the point traffic would be allowed to cross it this week.
But the agency held out the possibility unforeseen circumstances could alter that schedule, which is why Scott Bennett said traffic won’t be allowed to cross the bridge until next week at the earliest.
“We are hoping that … it will probably be the early part of next week,” Bennett, the director of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, said Monday. “Originally we were thinking the latter part of this week. The rain has put us behind a little bit.”
Bennett spoke at an impromptu news conference Monday in the middle of the bridge over the Arkansas River amid the ongoing construction associated with the $98.6 million project.
The contractor, Massman Construction of Kansas City, Mo., is racing against a 180day clock expiring March 29 in which it had to close the
old bridge to traffic, remove it, build the new one and open it to traffic.
“You can see it is not quite finished yet,” Bennett said. “They have to finish a little work on the pavement. They have to stripe it. We don’t really want to paint stripes on the pavement when it’s wet. It won’t stick. We will get this open as absolutely as soon as possible.”
One tarp- covered section of the south approach to the bridge had concrete
re-poured and will need several days to cure, highway officials said.
Bennett didn’t foresee any delays beyond next week, which will be about three weeks before the 180- day deadline. The detours now directing traffic around the bridge will remain in place until that time.
“I do feel very confident in saying it’s going to be in less than six months,” he said.
The Little Rock area has seen some periods of rain in the past few days. More rain is forecast for today and Wednesday.
The contract included a clause to dock Massman $80,000 for every day it went past that 180 days, and incentives of $80,000 for every day it opened ahead of schedule. While there is a 50-day cap on payments for finishing early, there’s no cap on a potential penalty.
The $80,000 is what the department calculated as the daily road-user costs for the project. Road-user costs are the estimated financial impact the project will have on motorists. The figure is based on a formula taking into consideration traffic volume, delays and other factors.
Before it closed in September, the bridge carried about 25,000 vehicles daily.
The old bridge was completed in 1923 for just under $1 million. The department began planning to replace the bridge about eight years ago, concluding that although it remained safe for traffic, the cost to maintain the bridge as it continued to age would outweigh the cost to replace it. The Highway Department originally proposed a Broadway Bridge design similar to the Main Street Bridge, but local leaders persuaded the department to incorporate two basket-handle arches into the design. Pulaski County committed $20 million to cover the extra cost. Leaders say the basket-handle span will become a distinctive landmark in the region.
“Massman Construction has done a great job,” Bennett said. “Our crews have done a great job in making sure everything is really ready to go. As you can see, it is going to be a great addition to Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County.”
Bennett reiterated even after the bridge opens to traffic, work on the structure won’t be completed for several more weeks.
Vehicles will be able to cross the river north and south, but more work is needed to complete the southbound off- ramp that will carry traffic to westbound LaHarpe Boulevard, also called Arkansas 10.
It’s also expected to take several weeks for Massman workers to complete ramps on both sides of the river to connect the 16-foot shareduse path with the Arkansas River Trail for pedestrians and cyclists.
Announcements on those aspects of the project will be made as the work progresses, the department said.
Also, after the bridge opens to traffic, motorists can expect occasional lane closings on the span as the contractor wraps up parts of the project. The lane closings will be on weekends and at non- peak morning and afternoon commute times, the department said.
Bennett was on the bridge as part of a ceremonial first drive across to bring attention to the project’s status, which was a repeat of a similar occasion when the original bridge was built, he said.
Bennett, driving his stateowned sports utility vehicle, led a small convoy that included Dick Trammel of Rogers, chairman of the Arkansas Highway Commission; three of the four other commission members — Tom Schueck of Little Rock, Robert S. Moore Jr. of Arkansas City and Alec Farmer of Jonesboro — Mayors Mark Stodola of Little Rock and Joe Smith of North Little Rock and three Pulaski County justices of the peace — Donna Massey and Judy Green, both of Little Rock, and Phil Stowers of Maumelle.
“Smooth, it was really smooth,” Stodola said of the first drive across the bridge.
The bridge will be commissioned at 4 p.m. April 6 in the west parking lot across from Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock. The public is invited to participate.
“We are hoping that … it will probably be the early part of next week. Originally we were thinking the latter part of this week. The rain has put us behind a little bit.”
— Scott Bennett, the director of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department
Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola (left) talks with Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department Executive Director Scott Bennett Monday during a ceremony on the Broadway Bridge for the ceremonial first crossing of the bridge. The bridge will open to vehicle traffic sometime next week.