In mid-December, Arkansas Sens. Tom Cotton and John Boozman voted yes on an $858 billion federal defense spending bill that will fund several projects around Arkansas, including $1.8 million for one at the Pine Bluff Arsenal.
It will be used to design a replacement for the Plainview entrance, which will be done by the Omaha District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Center of Excellence, Pine Bluff Arsenal spokesperson Cheryl Avery said.
Once the new gate is designed and funded, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Little Rock District will oversee the military construction project. Additionally, it will provide modern security and updated force protection features that the old 1942-era Plainview entrance doesn't have. It will be used by both commercial and personnel vehicles, Avery said.
Currently, approximately 740 civilian and military employees and personnel enter the Arsenal daily, with about 11,000 tons of shipments coming and going annually, Avery said.
There are two entrance points, but neither is fully suitable to the Arsenal's needs, she said.
Currently, the Dexter Gate entrance is the only one that can be used by commercial vehicles, but a road-level railroad crossing near it is considered a hazard.
Larry E. Wright of LE Wright & Associates PLLC said about the Dexter entrance: "It's a mess."
Plainview Gate is considered a safer entry option because of the elevated viaduct that crosses over the railroad tracks; however, the two-lane Hoadley Road that leads up to the gate isn't able to handle the volume of commercial and passenger vehicle traffic without a major road upgrade and the replacement of the Caney Creek Bridge, Wright said.
The funding puts White Hall and the U.S. Army post one step closer to turning the Plainview Gate into an entrance point that can handle the comings and goings of commercial and employee vehicle entrance and exit.
Wright said the Plainview Gate design will go a long way in giving the entire project viability. At this point, Wright added, "We can start pursuing other funding streams" for the road improvements.
Wright serves as White Hall's Consulting Engineer and as the Grant Project manager on the Hoadley Road upgrade project.
MORE MONEY NEEDED
The National Defense Authorization Act passed 83-11 in the Senate with approval by the House of Representatives, and the Arsenal's share was in large part due to the efforts of Boozman.
"We are thrilled with the money," Wright said.
But it's only a small portion of the funding needed, and there's more work to be done, including the widening of Arkansas 256 from Interstate 530 to the viaduct near the Plainview Gate, Wright said.
It's estimated to cost about $9.8 million to upgrade that approximately 2-mile stretch of road, including the removal and replacement of a 70-year-old bridge, said White Hall Mayor Noel Foster. He was behind the formation of a 26-member committee comprising local economic groups and White Hall, Pine Bluff and Jefferson County government participants about seven years ago.
REPAVING HOADLEY ROAD
From I-530 to a curve in the road near the White Hall School District Administration Building, it's known as Holland Road, after which and heading east, it becomes Hoadley Road.
The proposed road rehab includes both sections of road.
The Holland Road section would require an overlay of asphalt. ArDOT, or the Arkansas Department of Transportation, has that work on its scheduled docket, according to Taylor Clark of Little Rock's McClelland Consulting Engineers, Inc. of Little Rock.
His team did the road survey and geotechnical work in late 2021 and spent the first eight months of 2022 working on the different design options, but there's no time frame for the construction to start.
Holland Road is a relatively easy fix, while Hoadley Road is more complicated and ultimately more expensive, Clark said.
Hoadley Road has short shoulders, and it crosses Caney Bayou by way of the 80-year-old bridge, number 2280. Parts of Hoadley Road are prone to flooding.
The entire existing roadway elevation will be kept as much as the geometry allows. As for the roadway itself, Clark said, "The goal was to minimize its footprint."
To meet this end, his team decided to use the existing roadbed but noticeably widen its shoulders to 8 feet on each side and create a gentle slope as currently used by ArDOT. This allows drivers more opportunity to return to the roadway without incident after veering onto the shoulder, Wright said.
Hoadley Road needed resurfacing that would cost an additional $3 million.
The project will also include a number of soft costs such as utility relocation, property right-of-way purchases near the bridge site, its installation, money to help with the move of the old bridge and more. The road rehab stops at the viaduct near the Plainview entrance.
The cost of rehabbing the old bridge is greater than the cost of building a new one. The bridge itself will cost about $1.5 million, not including installation, Wright said.
"The most difficult element will be the bridge itself. We can't fix its issues," Clark said.
It was built just before or in conjunction with the construction of the Arsenal, which was established in November 1941. At that time, it was an important access point. Bridges built during the World War II era fall short of modern weight and engineering standards.
Also, today's vehicles, both family and commercial vehicles, are heavier and taller, so the guard rails need to be raised to be in compliance with current ArDOT standards, Clark said.
The proposed bridge design places a new 160-foot steel, hydraulic bridge to the southeast side of the existing one. It's 40 feet wide, with 2 1/2 lanes.
Clark said the new bridge was hydraulically designed with the Caney Bayou overflow in mind, adding, "Water does what it wants to do." So, it was raised 4 feet.
At the bridge entrance and exit, a gentler curvature will help prevent traffic mishaps when traffic moves from the bridge back to the main road, Clark said.
The old bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and will have to be destroyed or moved because the support beams collect debris and cause further flooding. The logistics and new home will be determined later, Wright said.
"This puts us one step closer to being a major (military-related) manufacturing center," Wright said.
Most of these civilian jobs at the Arsenal are manufacturing jobs, similar to those in the private sector. However, the Arsenal products are produced exclusively for the U.S. Army, Wright added. He also serves as White Hall's consulting engineer and as the Grant Project manager on the Hoadley Road upgrade project.
Avery said production at the Arsenal includes America's Joint Warfighter with specialized ammunition, such as smoke and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) defense, and also includes the logistics and storage of these products.
About two years ago, military protective clothing was added to the Arsenal manufacturing lineup.