Plan approved for new White River Bridge at Newport

NEWPORT, AR (KAIT) – Work will begin very soon to replacethe historic Blue Bridge that spans the White River in Newport.

The Arkansas State Highway & Transportation Departmentapproved a bid to construct a new White River Bridge on Arkansas Highway 367,according to a news release. The project will reconstruct a one-mile stretch ofHighway 367 from the curve north of the bridge to Third Street in Newport.

AHTD awarded the contract worth $31,361,489.76 to TannerConstruction Company, Inc., of Ellisville, Mississippi, to complete theproject.

Lyndal Waits, an AHTD district engineer, expects crews tofinish building the new four-lane bridge adjacent to the current structure byearly 2017. He says that project should begin within six weeks, but some ofthis preliminary construction will likely go unnoticed for a while.

"Not much will affect the traveling public because they [thecrews] will be doing work on the ground getting ready for the bridge," Waitssaid. "It'll probably be another year at least before some of the roadway-typework will begin.

"All in all," he added, "it has a 375 work days, which givesthem three more years to construct the project."

Waits says the design of the new bridge may not be asarchitecturally interesting as the current one, but it will provide some significantbenefits particularly to local industry.

"It'll be a wonderful improvement for most notably theindustry in the area because they are not traveling on a weight-restrictedbridge anymore, and also wider loads can come through," Waits said. "The heightrestriction is not quite an issue, but nonetheless you won't have an overheadtruss to that. So, there might be other types of routing equipment through thatarea just simply because it might be closer in their scheme of how they getwhere they need to go."

Once the new bridge opens, Newport city officials would liketo turn the Blue Bridge, a local landmark, into a walking trail forpedestrians. The town's economic development director, however, says cost isstill the biggest concern.

"Right now, the highway department has told us they'll giveus $1,077,000 for the project," Jon Chadwell, director of the Newport EconomicDevelopment Commission, said, "so that's a significant amount of money but itjust depends on how that money relates to the cost of rehabilitating a bridge."

Chadwell says the city would like to now hire an engineer orarchitect to develop a cost estimate for the walking trail project firstproposed by a group of students from the Clinton School of Public Service inLittle Rock. The problem, though, is that any engineering work will cost money,too, which will likely cost about $100,000. Chadwell says the city simply doesnot have that kind of money to spend offhand.

"We've written a couple of grants trying to find someengineering and architecture work, and they can look at it and get an idea ofhow much it would cost," Chadwell said. "And then we'll know is the money thatthe highway department's giving enough or will we have to seek more and is iteven feasible?"

He expects the city to find out whether it's received thosegrants to proceed with planning after the New Year.

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