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story.lead_photo.caption Large towers that will support construction of the new Broadway Bridge are moved into place on the Arkansas River by a barge Monday near the shadow of the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge. - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

Two staging barges have been moved into place near the Broadway Bridge on the Arkansas River, marking the beginning of a new phase in the $98 million project to replace the crossing connecting Little Rock and North Little Rock.

The barges, secured for now on the north bank of the river and on the upstream side of the existing bridge, contain large yellow structures called falsework towers that will be used to support the construction of the twin arches that the new bridge will feature. Each arch will eventually require four towers, one for each corner.

The first pieces of steel for the arches will arrive Thursday from Palatka, Fla., on trucks with special permits to carry overweight and oversize loads, Danny Straessle, a spokesman for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, said Monday.

The trucks will arrive at a separate staging area also on the river's north bank, across from the Clinton Presidential Center and just east of the pedestrian bridge. There, the steel will be offloaded, painted and then loaded onto barges that will be floated upstream to the second staging area, which is between the Broadway and Main Street bridges, according to the department.

It is at the second staging area where workers with Massman Construction Co. of Kansas City, Mo., the project's primary contractor, will assemble the arches before they are hoisted into place.

Once the existing bridge is removed sometime in the spring, the barges will be used to float the completed arches -- each 450 feet long -- into place above new piers and caps. Then the barges will be flooded with water and the arches lowered into place, according to the contractor.

"It will be quite a sight to see," Straessle said.

The oversize and overweight truckloads might be quite a sight, too. The largest among the convoy contains steel members that are 75 feet long and weigh 85,000 pounds, or more than 42 tons, according to the department. They will enter the state on U.S. 82 in Chicot County to complete a journey totaling about 870 miles.

Delivery of the steel will take several months. The double-basket handle arches will weigh an estimated 2,000 tons each once construction is completed, the department said.

The arches are being built by a subcontractor, Veritas Steel LLC of Eau Claire, Wis. Because of the size of the arches and the shortened time frame under which Veritas must complete them, one arch is being built at its facility in Eau Claire and the second at another company facility in Palatka.

Pulaski County committed $20 million to the project to incorporate two basket-handle arches into the design instead of just one as the department had proposed. That money will be paid over several years.

Planning to replace the 92-year-old bridge on U.S. 70, also known as Broadway, began in 2011. All three of its components -- superstructure, substructure and deck -- are rated structurally deficient. While state highway officials insist that it remains safe for traffic for now, they say the bridge has been increasingly costly to maintain, making replacing it a more cost-effective option.

Current construction estimates indicate that the existing bridge will be closed in late spring, according to the department. The new structure will open to traffic six months later. Work on this project began in January 2015 and is estimated to be completed in early 2017.

Until now, Massman crews have been assembling material and equipment, installing offices in four separate prefab buildings placed off Riverfront Drive in North Little Rock near the bridge, drilling the shafts in the river bottom for the 24 piers for the new bridge, building the pedestrian and bicycle ramps that will tie into the new bridge, and other work.

Metro on 12/15/2015

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  • RBBrittain
    December 15, 2015 at 8:49 a.m.

    Why are the arch components arriving by truck instead of barge? Though neither Palatka nor Eau Claire appears to be directly on a navigable waterway, they're both clearly close to one (the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway and the Mississippi River, respectively); it would seem simpler to me for the trucks to head for the nearest port in their own states and offload to barges there instead of in NLR. Barges are better suited for transporting large, heavy components of this nature over long distances than trucks or trains. (Maybe it's a timing issue; trucks do move faster.)
    Also, though coming from Florida might justify entering the state on the Greenville Bridge (anyone familiar with Tommy Smith's "shortcut to the Redneck Riviera" knows that, not to mention that is the only route between LR and any of our state lines that is both 100% four-lane AND predominantly non-Interstate), will the ones coming from Wisconsin go that way too? Perhaps it's just because I initially misread the second reference to Palatka as Wisconsin instead of Florida (I missed the first reference), but it seems to me the more appropriate entry points from Wisconsin would be in Northeast Arkansas (most likely I-55 at Blytheville or US 67 at Corning) or possibly West Memphis.

  • Jackabbott
    December 15, 2015 at 8:53 a.m.

    They are probably looking for the cheapest way to do it.

  • RBBrittain
    December 15, 2015 at 10:33 a.m.

    @Jackabbott: I would think barges are cheaper; more capacity per barge, multiple barges per pilot (vs. at least one driver for EACH tractor-trailer, probably more), and fewer trips (it will take months of truck convoys to bring in all the parts). I suspect it's more likely speed than cost, especially since the project is already behind schedule (high river levels delayed earlier stages of construction), and to meet the six-month closure window (why they're assembling the arches on falsework towers next to the existing bridge) as well as the overall length of the contract (AHTD will fine the contractor if either deadline is missed).
    The "cheapest" way would be to demolish the old bridge first, then replace it with a standard plate-girder design like most other bridges this size. However, that was rejected for several reasons: Building the new one next to the old one (as proposed for the first half of the 30 Crossing bridge) couldn't be done on the LR end without sharp curves and/or tearing down either City Hall or Robinson Center, and demolition & reconstruction as plate girder on-site would require years of traffic disruptions. The aesthetic preferences of Buddy Villines and others originally dictated the arch design, but it also allowed the contractor to build it this way to shorten the closure window (the main reason it won the contract).