NEWPORT, AR (KAIT) – A team of students recommendsconverting the historic Blue Bridge in Newport into an outdoor walking trail.
The students presented this idea to the Newport City Councilafter they collected community members' inputs about the bridge, which will bereplaced in the next few years.
Because of its historic designation, the City of Newport hasthe option of adopting the Blue Bridge, meaning it would take over thecontinued maintenance and upkeep once a new bridge is built.
To cover that expense, the city can receive funds providedby the Arkansas Highway & Transportation Department for the cost ofdemolition to go toward adaptive reuse. That is currently estimated to be morethan $1 million, which can go toward refurbishing the bridge and increasingsafety standards.
The Clinton School students – Abby Olivier, Foster Holcomband James Stephens – recommend the city use that money to make improvements tothe bridge, improve accessibility and create an outdoor educational trail.
"It's such a large opportunity," said Holcomb, a first-yearstudent at the Clinton School in Little Rock, "and it's such a large amount ofmoney that the state is willing to throw towards a creative project andsomething that could really stimulate cultural and economic development."
The students' proposal includes constructing a 1,000-footaccess ramp that would extend from the Blue Bridge to the downtown intersectionof 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 supportthe idea but questioned how the city could afford to do it all.
"The majority of people in town wanted the Blue Bridge tostay," said Jon Chadwell, the Newport Economic Development Commission director."They still had concerns about how much it is going to cost the city tomaintain it over the course of time, what's the liability the city gets intoit, what kind of uses it's going to be."
The city council members still have a lengthy amount of timeto decide whether or not to move forward with the project, as construction forthe Blue Bridge's replacement is not expected to be completed until early 2015.
Lyndal Waits, the AHTD district five engineer, says moneywas 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 shoulderon each side, so a total of 40-foot [across]," Waits said.
The new 2,600-foot bridge will be constructed adjacent tothe current bridge and will direct traffic onto Highway 367 instead of RemmelAvenue on the Newport side.