Preliminary work begins on historic bridge

By Tammy Keith Published October 6, 2016 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: William Harvey

Jack Bell, left, chief of staff for the city of Conway, and Steve Ibbotson, director of the Conway Parks and Recreation Department, stand at the foot of the 1874 Springfield Des-Arc Bridge, which will be moved to Beaverfork Lake in Conway. Work is underway to clear the road and make a gravel pad for a crane to sit on as it lifts the bridge — scheduled for the first of November — so it can be restored. The bridge spans Cadron Creek at the Faulkner-Conway county line.

A situation that could have delayed and complicated the relocation of the historic 1874 Springfield-Des Arc Bridge to Conway has been resolved by transferring a Metroplan grant to another project, said Jack Bell, the city’s chief of staff.

Now the city won’t have to solicit bids on the bridge project, and Workin’ Bridges of Iowa, which already had a contract for the job, can continue, Bell said.

“There are a lot of steps that the federal regulations required that now we won’t have to go through, and the big thing is the delay. We want [the bridge] pulled from the creek before the wet season. … This will help us do that,” he said.

Metroplan awarded Conway a $300,000 Transportation Alternatives Program 80-20 matching grant for the bridge to be refurbished and moved from its remote location northwest of Wooster — where it spans

Cadron Creek between Faulkner and Conway counties — to Beaverfork Lake. The grant originated from federal funds, requiring that the city take bids for the project.

However, the city already had a $328,760 contract with Workin’ Bridges of Iowa, a nonprofit group that specializes in restoring historic bridges, to do the job. Julie Bowers, contractor with Workin’ Bridges, said the nonprofit organization isn’t allowed to bid projects. She has worked on the bridge project for five years, she said.

Bell said Conway Mayor Tab Townsell, who will take over in January as executive director of Metroplan, came up with the idea to ask Metroplan to transfer the grant given for the bridge project to the $2 million Dave Ward Drive pedestrian/bicycle-overpass project.

Last week, the Metroplan board unanimously voted to allow Conway to switch the grant given for the relocation of the bridge to the Dave Ward project, Bell said. Metroplan is a transportation planning organization for Faulkner, Pulaski, Lonoke and Saline counties.

Now the bridge project will be paid for with Advertising and Promotion Commission money, Bell said. The city gets a share of a 2 percent tax on hotel/motel rooms and a

2 percent tax on prepared foods. Those funds could have been used for the project in the first place, but the city decided to apply for grants, Bell said.

“We didn’t know there were going to be so many complications,” he said. Bell said he never got confirmation that Workin’ Bridges would not be able to bid, but the change made it a “moot point.”

Bell said work has started on clearing the remote road to the bridge to gain access, and the bowstring truss bridge will be lifted off the creek the first of November by Best Crane & Riggins, which has an office in Conway. Faulkner County will build a gravel pad where the crane will sit.

The team restoring the bridge includes Nels Raynor, president of Bach Steel in Michigan and co-founder of Workin’ Bridges; Jim Schiffer of Michigan, engineer, who will set up the rigging for the crane and dismantle the bridge; and Bowers.

“It’s the collaboration of a craftsman, engineer and nonprofit that makes these things happen — the expertise of all these,” Bowers said. “With a very aggressive schedule, we could still be on before the end of the year. Potentially, it can be finished.”

She said the group makes old bridges look as new, while remaining historically accurate.

Bowers was upset about the requirement to take bids, potentially knocking Workin’ Bridges out of the project, but she was thrilled to hear the situation was resolved.

“Isn’t that outstanding? We are quite excited and moving things forward,” she said. “I certainly didn’t know how that could be done, but for the purposes of the bridge, it makes the most sense.

“We’re very happy that the city and Metroplan could figure that out because it’s just logistics.”

The bridge will be sandblasted by Snyder Environmental of North Little Rock “to get lichen and lead paint off of it,” Bowers said. The bridge will receive a new deck and a railing so [the bridge] can be used by pedestrians. The city is responsible for concrete abutments at Beaverfork Lake.

The bridge will be moved in pieces and reassembled by Bach Steel, northwest of the Beaverfork Lake swimming area. The bridge will connect the fishing pier to the swimming area and will also be visible from Arkansas 25.

Kenneth Barnes, who teaches history at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, is a member of the Faulkner County Historical Society, which has been a driving force to save the bridge. He said the bridge went out of service in 1991 when the road was relocated and has deteriorated ever since.

The bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places, and Bell said the Department of Arkansas Heritage is working to make sure the bridge stays on the register.

The bridge was built by King Bridge Manufactory & Iron Works of Iola, Kansas, a branch of the King Bridge Co. of Cleveland. Bowers said it is the “oldest, longest King bridge of that type in the United States. In Arkansas, it is an important bridge.”

The $2 million Dave Ward Drive overpass project has received a $150,000 Transportation Alternatives Program grant, and the $240,000 bridge grant (the amount less the 20 percent the city would pay) will be put toward that project. The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department is providing $400,000 toward the overpass, and the University of Central Arkansas will contribute $300,000. Money from the advertising and promotion fund will be used to pay for the rest of the Dave Ward Drive project, too, Bell said.

“We’re also going to apply for more grants,” Bell said. Plans are being drawn for the pedestrian overpass, he said; then bids will be solicited.

The overpass will connect the city’s Stone Dam Creek trail south of Dave Ward Drive to a trail at UCA between Donaghey Avenue and Farris Road. Bell said the trail head and parking lot are near an apartment complex off Mimosa Drive.

“It just kind of dead ends,” he said. “[The trail is] used, and we’re hoping it will still be used for those 600 students or so in apartments to get to campus.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or

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