Students recommend turning Blue Bridge into walking trail - KAIT Jonesboro, AR - Region 8 News, weather, sports

Students recommend turning Blue Bridge into walking trail

NEWPORT, AR (KAIT) – A team of students recommends converting the historic Blue Bridge in Newport into an outdoor walking trail.

The students presented this idea to the Newport City Council after they collected community members' inputs about the bridge, which will be replaced in the next few years.

Because of its historic designation, the City of Newport has the option of adopting the Blue Bridge, meaning it would take over the continued maintenance and upkeep once a new bridge is built.

To cover that expense, the city can receive funds provided by the Arkansas Highway & Transportation Department for the cost of demolition to go toward adaptive reuse. That is currently estimated to be more than $1 million, which can go toward refurbishing the bridge and increasing safety standards.

The Clinton School students – Abby Olivier, Foster Holcomb and James Stephens – recommend the city use that money to make improvements to the bridge, improve accessibility and create an outdoor educational trail.

"It's such a large opportunity," said Holcomb, a first-year student at the Clinton School in Little Rock, "and it's such a large amount of money that the state is willing to throw towards a creative project and something that could really stimulate cultural and economic development."

The students' proposal includes constructing a 1,000-foot access ramp that would extend from the Blue Bridge to the downtown intersection of Front and Main Streets.

Once this proposal was presented to the city council, residents could pose questions. Many of the public's comments seemed to support the idea but questioned how the city could afford to do it all.

"The majority of people in town wanted the Blue Bridge to stay," said Jon Chadwell, the Newport Economic Development Commission director. "They still had concerns about how much it is going to cost the city to maintain it over the course of time, what's the liability the city gets into it, what kind of uses it's going to be."

The city council members still have a lengthy amount of time to decide whether or not to move forward with the project, as construction for the Blue Bridge's replacement is not expected to be completed until early 2015.

Lyndal Waits, the AHTD district five engineer, says money was finally set aside to replace the aging, narrow Blue Bridge.

"The best way to say [is] its time has come," Waits said.

The new bridge will be much safer and wider, he says.

"There will be two 12-foot lanes and an eight-foot shoulder on each side, so a total of 40-foot [across]," Waits said.

The new 2,600-foot bridge will be constructed adjacent to the current bridge and will direct traffic onto Highway 367 instead of Remmel Avenue on the Newport side.

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