PRUITT, Ar. – An 85-year-old landmark in Newton County, Arkansas will soon be replaced.
The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) is seeking public input as it looks to build a new bridge over the Buffalo National River, on Highway 7, near Pruitt.
The bridge was built in 1931 – four decades before the Buffalo River became a National Park.
“I was just sitting there, downstream, looking up at the bridge thinking about how old it looked,” says Kansas resident, Don Thompson.
Thompson visits the area once a year, and he’s hesitant to see construction at one of the easiest places to access the river.
“It’s nice to come down here and not see all these man-made structures,” he says. “But part of it, I guess, I get to use that bridge to get to where I want to go.”
In order to continue providing that access, AHTD Engineer, Steve Lawrence, says the deteriorating bridge needs to be replaced.
“There’s more traffic nowadays. The vehicles are bigger, they’re heavier and wider,” says Lawrence.
“When two big trucks meet on that bridge,” he says, “there’s not any room for error.”
While the steel structure of the bridge is unique, Lawrence says it comes with considerably more upkeep compared to modern bridges; he says maintenance requires calling in specialized crews from Little Rock.
“Two [replacement] options have the new bridge, on Highway 7, being west of the existing bridge or upstream,” Lawrence says.
In all, the AHTD is eyeing four project options: the two upstream could possibly cross the picnic area below the current bridge; the two downstream options would avoid the area altogether.
“We’re going to do our absolute best to make sure it has minimal if any impact on the river,” he says.
Lawrence says the biggest push back to the project has been in regards to the fate of the old bridge.
“There’s been generations of people that have driven across that bridge… a lot of people care about that bridge,” he says.
Different organizations have considered taking over the steel structure – part of the reason why the project has been in the works since 2002 — but due to maintenance and liability costs the bridge will now be removed.
Lawrence says his department wants the public’s input on what will eventually take its place.
“We want to know what they think will be best,” he says.
Lawrence says the AHTD will be hosting a public meeting on April 21 from 4-7p at the Newton County Senior Center, in Jasper.
The project will also replace a much smaller bridge that runs over Mill Creek; the combined total is expected to cost between $8- and $10-million.