LITTLE ROCK Local leaders on Thursday shared their thoughts, answered questions and listened to opinions on the future of the Broadway Bridge, a span connecting Little Rock and North Little Rock that has been rated as functionally obsolete and more cost effective to replace than maintain.
Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Hays and Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines led a discussion at the Metroplan office in downtown Little Rock that drew about 40 people. Some were members of the public interested in the project and others represented agencies involved with or affected by the work.
A number of variables are at stake, including the number of lanes on the span, how it will serve pedestrians and bicyclists, whether it will be an iconic or purely functional structure and what it should look like.
Ed Levy, chairman of the Little Rock Bike-Friendly Community Committee, encouraged wide bicycle lanes offset from traffic. He also spoke favorably of constructing a cable-stayed bridge, a design that incorporates cables supporting the bridge deck.
"I travel a lot and I've seen a lot of these cable-stayed bridges and they're spectacular," he said. "And you see them from a long way away and you're like 'wow, what is that?.' If you're looking for iconic - that's going to get it for you. They're fantastic."
Tom Ezell, a representative of Bicycle Advocacy of Central Arkansas, said he favors an iconic bridge that extends into the air. He noted classic spans like the Brooklyn Bridge or the Golden Gate Bridge do that, as does the new U.S. 82 Bridge over the Mississippi at Greenville.
"When you're coming up on that bridge, you just say 'wow. wow,'" Ezell said of the latter. "You remember that."
Still, Ezell said cost and maintenance also have to be considered as a design is finalized.
Hays told the crowd he believes a website needs to be created where members of the public can look at the different kinds of bridges so they can get an idea what each one might look like across the Arkansas River.
"Bridges mean something a lot more than moving from one side of the landing to the other," Hays said. "This is an opportunity that I don't think any of us want to pass up, nor should we. What we do over the next several years as far as what that bridge is going to be means a whole lot."
Jim McKenzie, executive director of Metroplan, said the current Broadway Bridge isn't in danger of falling down, but it is shedding concrete chunks and is costing more and more to maintain. It rates a 12.7 on a 100-point scale of structural deficiency, he said.
The bridge type will be selected in the spring with another public meeting slated some time later in 2012. Final plans would be completed in spring 2013 and construction would start later that year.
Arkanas Highway and Transportation Department Director Scott Bennett said the fast-tracked project needs to continue at that pace or else his agency might lose some of the federal funds it has set aside for the work. The budget for the project currently stands around $45 million.
Hays asked Bennett how much time the local communities - Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County - have to look for money if they want to supplement that total and create a more expensive, more iconic span.
"You probably should start looking today," Bennett said. "Seriously. That's the real issue ... That has to stay our target."