With pomp, speeches and even a brass band, the Broadway Bridge, linking the cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock across the expanse of the Arkansas River was formally dedicated last Thursday afternoon.
The bridge was opened to north-south traffic on March 1, nearly a month ahead of the deadline. The dedication ceremony was held 100 years to the day after the U.S. entered World War I and just over 94 years since the dedication of the original Broadway Bridge, which was demolished last fall.
In the spring of 1923, the bridge was dedicated to the veterans of what was then called “The Great War.” The new bridge is dedicated to all U.S. veterans of all foreign conflicts.
Scott Bennett, director of the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department, presented some history of the old Broadway Bridge along with trivia about the new structure.
“It was in 1913 that the Main Street Bridge needed to be replaced. The local leaders couldn’t really decide where it needed to be, so like any good government, it was decided we needed two bridges instead of one, and the decision was made to build the Broadway Bridge,” Bennett told the crowd, which numbered about 200 people.
Bennett noted the first ceremonial trip across the then-new original bridge was on Christmas Day in 1922. Crossing the bridge was a delegation including highway officials, as well as local and state dignitaries. The formal dedication of the bridge was held in March 1923 and the final cost of the structure was $971,000.
“So here we are after 93 years of that bridge serving traffic in the area very well with a new bridge that we’re dedicating, at just over 100 times the cost of the original bridge,” Bennett said.
In November 2014, Massman Construction, based in Kansas City, Missouri was awarded a $98.4 million contract to replace the bridge. After nearly two years of preliminary work, the old bridge was closed Sept. 28, 2016.
Although demolition efforts attracted much attention for a notable lack of a splash, as the old structure resisted explosives and had to be pulled down, work proceeded smoothly, Bennett said. Even a delay over an archaeological find that stopped construction proved to be minor.
An unusually mild winter has been credited with aiding construction efforts that cut the bridge closure to five months from a projected six.
During construction, Bennett noted that 24 shafts were drilled down 65 feet into rock to anchor the bridge. The structure is contained by 26,000 square feet of retaining wall shored up with more than 30,000 cubic yards of fill material. The structure contains 25,000 cubic yards of concrete and 13.5 million pounds of structural steel. Bennett said the arches alone account for more than 10,000 cubic yards of concrete and 8 million pounds of steel.
“So you can see that it is an extremely substantial structure that should stand the test of time for many, many years to come,” said Bennett.
Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, giving a nod to how technology has shaped society, noted that there were 50 thousand people in attendance at the dedication of the original bridge.
“That was quite a unique situation, and I can only hope that today we have ultimately 50,000 people on Facebook Live watching this dedication,” said the mayor, with a laugh. “What a difference it makes in terms of time, a hundred years’ difference.”
Stodola praised the highway officials and construction officials for recognizing the need to keep the old bridge open as long as possible and to get the new link operational as quickly as possible.
North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith touched upon the importance of maintaining infrastructure.
“Sometimes we take our infrastructure for granted. I don’t think we do that anymore. We realize how much this cost. Our infrastructure is an ongoing cost for all of our cities,” said Smith as he addressed the crowd. “The one thing I want to point out is we have to have the money to do projects like this and we must take advantage of federal money when it’s available for projects like this.”
Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde gave highway officials kudos for their handling of the bridge shutdown, which snarled rush hour traffic during the entire time as commuters searched for alternate routes.
“I know they were under the gun a lot of the time and it’s difficult to hold that poise in the heat of the battle, and they just did a great job. A lot of the end product we’re going to enjoy here is because of their efforts,” Hyde said.
Work will continue on the bridge for about another 60 days, officials said, as construction crews complete a shared use path for pedestrians and bicycle traffic and tie in walkways and traffic ramps.