Project could help ‘ugly’ Garrison Avenue Bridge

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 401 views 

While only in the planning phase at this point, the Garrison Avenue Bridge could be a bright and shining entrance to the city of Fort Smith if Central Business Improvement District board member Phil White has his way.

White, who is also on the Fort Smith Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee, said he has joined forces with public and private organizations, including the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department and OG&E, to try and pay for improvements to a bridge he describes as "ugly."

“We've got a rendering of it,” he said of the possible changes. “It's got period lights like (the lights currently lining) Garrison Avenue and lining the bridge with them.”

He said the plan would also include the addition of "iron work railing" and everything on the bridge would be cleaned and repainted, with the cleaning and painting to be done by the AHTD.

"The pedestrian walkways are a galvanized finish that just have a dull look and we proposed painting them to match the lights," he said. "It's a simple thing, not gaudy or flashy, but it's a simple touch that would dress it up and make it blend."

He said the cost for taxpayers would likely be minimal due to the partnerships he is pursing. One of the parties that has expressed interest in helping with the project, according to White, is OG&E.

"OG&E has a program going to add LED lighting and it starts off next year and they're taking major impact areas and they're going to change out the LED lights and they're going to use the bridge as one of those locations to change out,” White said.

Rob Ratley, OG&E's community affairs manager in Fort Smith, said there are many unknowns with the project. He also said work on the project could take as long as two years to begin.

"We haven't gotten that far with the project. We've met with the CBID and we've met with the Arkansas Highway Department,” Ratley said. "We supply the poles, but since they're wanting to go with decorative light fixtures, there is a slight difference in cost. That would have to be addressed."

Joe Shipman, district four engineer with the AHTD, made clear that any discussions on improving the Garrison Avenue Bridge, which is considered part of the state's highway system, are preliminary.

“At this point, there's not really a project,” he said. “They have expressed an interest in doing some things to enhance the appearance at the entrance to Fort Smith and we have had some early discussions of that.”

In fact, Shipman said formal discussions between AHTD, OG&E and the CBID had only occurred once.

"We met with them one time and got some ideas. There might be something from a maintenance standpoint, but as far as setting up a project, that would be something we could not do in short time."

One of the other hurdles facing any potential project would be the fact that the bridge, which was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1973, spans across a navigable river and is located in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

The two-state issue, Shipman said, would present a challenge.

"We would have to coordinate with ODOT (Oklahoma Department of Transportation) on anything that affected the bridge," he said, adding that AHTD has an agreement with ODOT to provide maintenance of the bridge.

But he said even something as simple as naming the bridge the Fred J. Patton bridge at the request of the city of Fort Smith required coordination with ODOT.

“It's not unusual, we have a good relationship in that matter. It's just determining what can be done and to what extent people do want to pursue something.”

Should OG&E offer up the money, Shipman said studies would need to be conducted to make sure the bridge could handle the extra weight light fixtures would add to the structure while also making sure the lighting structures and the glow produced do not have an adverse affect on drivers.

"All of that would have to be done, but basically, thus far, the conversations have been in concept on what are the possibilities here," he said.

White sounded far more optimistic about the prospect of enhancing the entrance to Fort Smith.

"Is it 100% a done deal? No. But it is 90%, 95%, yeah," he said. "(OG&E has) the program, they want to make every attempt to incorporate those lights into that program. We are asking the highway department, since nothing has been done to the bridge, to look into maintenance."

White said only OG&E, who did not respond to our requests for comment, could provide cost estimates for the proposed project.

He added that he would like to have work begin by January 2014 when OG&E's LED lighting program is expected to begin.