Cheers For Parks Street Bridge
PRAIRIE GROVE — Cheers are probably going up by some residents of Prairie Grove and others who live west of town.
The Parks Street bridge, closed for construction since Oct. 19, 2015, opened to traffic Friday afternoon. Those who use the bridge will no longer have to take a six-mile detour on Butler Road.
The bridge was severely damaged by floods in spring 2011 and it has taken almost five years to replace the bridge. The bridge remained open as a one-lane bridge during most of that time.
Larry Oelrich, director of admin- istrative services and public works for the city of Prairie Grove, has received calls and messages almost daily from people wanting to know when the new bridge would open.
He describes the bridge as the Farmington bypass because many people use Parks Street which becomes Illinois Chapel Road to travel to Fayetteville or to I-49 to avoid heavy work traffic in the morning on U.S. Highway 62 going through Farmington and on into Fayetteville.
“A lot of people commuting prefer to drive that way in the morning from 7:30 to 8,” Oelrich said.
Angie Gill lives on Lee Ann Way, just past the bridge, and has been taking the Butler Road detour about five months. Gill, counselor for Prairie Grove Middle School, said the detour probably adds about 15 minutes to her commute to work and home.
“We take the detour everywhere we go,” Gill said. “In the morning, you have traffic on it and it is a gravel road and not very wide. When it rains, it washes out.”
She is ready for the new bridge to open.
“I’m so excited for the bridge to open. It’s going to be so nice. With that and the new bypass, it definitely will make a difference,” Gill said.
The project to replace the bridge has met several delays during the past five years. Parts of the project had to be approved by multiple agencies to continue to the next stage.
In addition to the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, other agencies involved in the decision-making process for Parks Street bridge included Bureau of Indian Affairs, Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Arkansas Fish and Game Commission, Arkansas Department of Environmental Affairs and Federal Highway Administration.
Though not funny, the question of when the bridge would be completed has almost been a running joke for city officials.
The State of the City address given by Mayor Sonny Hudson each year has included the comment that hopefully the bridge would be replaced in the coming year.
City officials had thought the bridge “definitely” would be replaced within two years after it was damaged by flooding. However, when the two-year mark passed, the city was still waiting for plans to be finalized and approved by the Highway Department.
“We started in 2011 with the application process and it took three years to get approved before we could advertise for bids,” Oelrich said.
The city approved a low bid of $575,236 from Crossland Heavy Constructors of Columbus, Kan., in September 2015, and construction started one month later. The project was about two weeks behind schedule, mainly due to weather, Oelrich said.
Hudson expressed appreciation for everyone’s patience during the long process.
“We’ve done everything we could do as fast as we could do it,” Hudson said. “We didn’t drag our feet. There was a lot of red tape in the process and we were waiting for other folks and other plans to be approved.”
Hudson said the city had to meet all requirements from the Highway Department to make sure it qualified for the 80 percent disaster funds approved for the project. Prairie Grove was responsible for 20 percent of the costs.
“We’re excited to get it back open for folks so they can go back to their normal routine,” Hudson said. “This will be better for everyone going through there.”
Parks Street bridge in Prairie Grove opened to two-way traffic Friday afternoon, though a few details still have to be completed, such as striping, guardrails on the approaches and clean-up. City officials plan a brief ribbon cutting when everything is ready.
The new Parks Street bridge was designed so that water would have clear passage underneath it during heavy rains. The old bridge received major damage during spring floods five years ago.