Newport fights to keep a familiar structure in its skyline

NEWPORT, AR (KAIT) – The Highway 367 bridge across the White River has provided access to downtown Newport for more than 80 years. The community has long called it the Blue Bridge, but the historic structure is set to be replaced in the near future.

The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department, or AHTD, is planning to build a new bridge. Crews could demolish the current structure if the local government or  another entity fails to acquire it. Newport city officials hope to obtain the Blue Bridge and convert it into a walking trail.

"It's an important historical treasure for us, and we're going to do everything we can to save it," said John Pennington, a Newport City Council member.

The Blue Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1930 and is 2,831 feet in length and 27 feet wide. The AHTD is required to sell or donate the historic structure; otherwise, the bridge will be torn down.

"The main thing we want to do is save it," Pennington said. "We want it to be part of the Newport landscape, as it has been for 80-something years. My dad climbed on that bridge and caught baby pigeons when he was a kid, so it's been here a long time."

The City of Newport intends to obtain the Blue Bridge. The town would have to preserve the historic integrity and pay for its upkeep, but the AHTD will reimburse money used to preserve or modify the bridge.

"The highway department will allow us a certain amount of funds based on what it would cost to demolish the bridge," Pennington added. "They'll give us the amount, so we don't know what that amount is. We're waiting to see, and what we'd like to do it utilize that bridge as some kind of walking trail."

The walking trail is just one idea for the bridge's future, but other residents have yet to offer their input.

"I think it's great to save it," Phil McDonald said. "What it's used for, I think there's going to have to be some public input."

McDonald serves as president of the Jackson County Historical Society. He sees the preservation of the Blue Bridge as a key to revitalizing the downtown area.

"I would like to see it kept and maintained," McDonald said, "whether it's a walking trail, whether it becomes a bike trail, whether it's closed at both ends and just there as a monument."

The City of Newport has 45 days to respond to a letter from AHTD about its interest in acquiring the Blue Bridge. Mayor David Stewart says the City Council will discuss the issue further at is next meeting on Tuesday, January 3.

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