Fayetteville and Benton County historic bridges set to get rehab work

by Rose Ann Pearce ([email protected]) 439 views 

The historic War Eagle Bridge (left) is in need of major repair. The one-lane bridge built in 1907 will be assessed in the coming months for a makeover at the request of the Benton Quorum Court. It is one of only 17 steel truss bridges in the state. The Lafayette Street bridge (right) in south Fayetteville is slated for an overhaul in the coming months. The bridge was completed in in 1938 and is need of repair according to the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department. (Courtesy Photos)

A dam and three historic bridges, including the iconic War Eagle bridge, in Northwest Arkansas will receive some much-needed attention with repairs coming in the next year to two years.

The Fayetteville City Council on Nov. 3 unanimously approved a $1.73 million contract with Crossland Heavy Contractors of Springdale to rehabilitate the Art Deco-era bridges on Maple and Lafayette Streets. The bridges, about a block apart between West Street and Arkansas Avenue, span the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad tracks which pass through Fayetteville.

The bridges were built about 80 years ago during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency as a New Deal project meant to restore confidence in government and business during the Great Depression. The bridges’ rails and piers feature the geometric, symmetrical style of the Art Deco period of art.

The work, expected to began as early as February and last about six months, will consist of putting down a new layer of concrete on the decks, restore or replace the rails and light fixtures, widen sidewalks, and shore up the end walls and substructure of both bridges. Repairs will focus on chipped concrete; broken lights; and bent and rusted railings after years of discussion and delays.

Observers have said the projects signal the city’s interest in historical preservation by preserving and continuing to use old structures instead of razing them. Since 2011, when a first plan emerged, the project has been put on hold for a variety of reasons, such as bid overages and design dilemmas related to the historic status of the two bridges.

Both structures are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in order to retain that designation, special rehabilitation work is required to restore the bridges as close as possible to their original form. Because of this, all plans – and any subsequent revisions – have had to be approved by city staff and the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. The designs also had to be funneled through the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department since federal money is involved.

City Engineer Chris Brown told council members Tuesday the projects are the last on the original list of projects to be funded by the 2006 transportation bond issue funded by a one-cent sales tax. The bridge projects will be paid from about $776,000 in federal funding; about $476,000 from the city’s capital improvements fund; and about $645,000 from the 2006 transportation bond issue, Brown said.

“I am so glad we’re getting these bridges repaired,” said Alderwoman Adella Gray of Ward I.

In Benton County, the century-old War Eagle Bridge is being considered for major rehabilitation but the nature and cost of the project isn’t yet known, said Benton County Judge Robert Clinard. Benton County has hired Great River Engineering of Springfield, Mo., to analyze load capacity and condition of the bridge to determine what is needed to strengthen the one-lane bridge.

The Quorum Court will receive the report in December, Clinard said. The engineering firm has completed its site analysis but will meet with AHTD officials and the county’s transportation committee before making its report to the Quorum Court, Clinard said.

The War Eagle Bridge is a one-lane steel bridge built in 1907. It adjoins the War Eagle Mill, and carries County Road 98 over War Eagle Creek. The bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. The Illinois Steel Bridge Company of Jacksonville, Ill., built the bridge for a contracted amount of $4,790. It is the only Parker truss bridge in Northwest Arkansas, and one of only 17 steel truss bridges in the state, according to historical accounts. It spans 182 feet.

“It was built for horse and buggy,” Clinard said.

The state has repeatedly warned Benton County officials that repairs need to be made or the bridge will have to close. That is what prompted Justices of the Peace to hire the engineering firm to determine the extent and cost of repairs. An inspection report by the AHTD in 2014 indicated the bridge has 17 problems, including cracks in the steel, bent metal and rusted bolts.

“It absolutely will continue to be a one-lane bridge,” Clinard said, adding building a new bridge “is not on the table.”

Only passenger cars and small trucks are allowed to cross the bridge — one vehicle at a time.

“I’m not sure a fire pumper truck loaded with water could cross the bridge,” Clinard said, adding that any work on the old bridge is probably two years away.

Meanwhile, four other bridges are planned for repair or replacement work to begin in 2016, Clinard said. Those bridges are Wildcat Bridge on old Highway 68; Corinth Bridge; Stagecoach Bridge and the Spanker Creek Bridge.

In this centennial birthday year of Lake Bella Vista, the badly damaged dam which is now part of the Razorback Greenway trail is finally going to get the needed repairs. A project to repair the earthen dam at Lake Bella Vista also includes plans for a new-elevated walkway over the dam, said Ben Peters, city engineer for Bentonville.

The Bentonville City Council will receive an environmental assessment report in December, Peters said. A contract with Dallas-based CP&Y, an architectural and engineering consulting firm, will be negotiated and final plans drawn for the dam repair and the new walkway.

“It’s an 18-month to 24-month project for construction and completion,” Peters said.

The cost is about $3.6 million, including the walkway. About $2.7 million has come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the balance from the Arkansas emergency management and economic development departments. The project has qualified for federal disaster assistance after it was damaged by water running over the top of the dam in 2008 and 2010.

“Every rain brings new concerns,” Peters said.

The elevated sidewalk was included in the repair design as a safety precaution for pedestrians and bikers crossing the 600-foot dam.