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Fate of Newport’s blue bridge hangs in the balance

By Jeanni Brosius

This article was published January 22, 2012 at 3:24 a.m.

— Mention the blue bridge in Newport, and most people know exactly where that is.

The 2,831-foot bridge has spanned the White River on Arkansas 367 in Jackson County since 1930. Because there is a new bridge being built, traffic will be rerouted, and the blue bridge’s future has yet to be determined.

On Dec. 19, Newport Mayor David Stewart received a letter from the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department that left the fate of the historic bridge in the city’s hands. The letter gave the city 45 days to decide whether to keep the bridge or allow it to be demolished.

Stewart said he met with the Newport City Council, and the council decided the city would keep the bridge.

“We don’t really know what we have planned,” Stewart said about the future of the bridge, “maybe a historical walking trail. … Nothing is out of the question right now.”

Because the double-arch cantilever through truss bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places and is the only one like it on the White River that hasn’t already been destroyed, the bridge qualifies for the terms of the Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act of 1987. This act states that prior to demolition, the bridge will be offered to a state or local government agency or a responsible private entity.

Now that the city has accepted ownership of the bridge, the AHTD will reimburse the city for the costs associated with preservation of the bridge.

“We will calculate what it costs to demolish the bridge,”said Robert Scoggin, a historian in the environmental division of AHTD, about how much money the city will receive to restore the bridge.

The reimbursement amount will be determined by the Federal Highway Administration and will not exceed 100 percent of the estimated cost of demolition.

“We will have to make sure the historical integrity of the bridge won’t be altered,” Scoggin said about future plans for the bridge.

Once the city decides what it will do with the bridge, the plans must be approved before the city will be reimbursed. Scoggin said that once the bridge is handed over and reimbursements are made, the city will be responsible from then on for maintenance and upkeep of the structure.

Scoggin said there were only three bridges of this type built over the White River. One in Augusta was demolished, and one in Clarendon is scheduled for demolition.

The blue bridge was designed by Hot Springs native Ira G. Hedrick, who was nationally known for his bridge designs.

Once the new bridge is complete, which could take up to two years, the blue bridge will no longer bear vehicle traffic. Scoggin also said it will be deemed whether the bridge is safe before it will be given to the city.

Although Scoggin said several cities and counties have taken ownership of bridges, the blue bridge may be the biggest project in Arkansas so far.

Staff writer Jeanni Brosius can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or jbrosius@arkansasonline.com.

Three Rivers, Pages 117 on 01/22/2012

Print Headline: Fate of Newport’s blue bridge hangs in the balance

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