PRUITT — As construction continues on a new bridge spanning the Buffalo River on state Highway 7 at Pruitt, the days of the current steel truss bridge built in 1931 appear to be numbered. With no one coming forward to take ownership of it, the green-painted span will be demolished when the new bridge is complete and functional, sometime next year.
Leading up to the design and letting of the contract for the replacement bridge's construction, the Arkansas Department of Transportation advertised the bridge's availability for adoption.
No group or organization has come forward, but Newton County Justice of the Peace Arlis Jones, who lives in the area, hasn't given up hope.
He asked his fellow justices of the peace to petition the circuit court to issue a stay of action preventing demolition until it is proven that all federal statutory and policy requirements pertaining to the matter of alteration or destruction of a federally protected historic site has been fully complied with. The bridge was added to the Arkansas Historic Bridge Recording Project in 1988.
Jones said the bridge would be a valuable tourist attraction for the area. He said the stay would give time for inquiry into the unwarranted destruction of the old bridge.
The quorum court has addressed taking ownership of the bridge in the past. In 2003 and again in 2007, then County Judge Harold Smith wrote letters to the highway department that as county judge he would work with the commission to take the current bridge into the county road system or for the bridge to be left in place for historical purposes.
The quorum court at various times said it would be interested in the bridge only to sell it as scrap.
There appeared to be no enthusiasm among current justices of the peace for the county to take over the responsibility of maintaining the old bridge as a pedestrian crossing.
County Judge Warren Campbell said that the county agreed to trade the approaches to the old bridge for land needed for approaches to the new bridge. The county would no longer have access to the old bridge.
The Buffalo River Bridge project (Job 009784) requires realigning the existing roadway on both sides of the Buffalo River to accommodate the new bridge location and to improve safety. Starting 0.3 mile south of the Buffalo River and ending 0.3 mile north of the Buffalo River, the total length of the project is 0.6 mile.
After some discussion, Jones convinced the JPs to at least table his proposal until the next court meeting when he said he would provide some authoritative evidence that the old bridge could be maintained without the risk of liability to its custodian.
ArDOT and its contractors began preparation work in early February for the replacement of the Pruitt Bridge, located approximately 11 miles south of Harrison and six miles north of Jasper. The existing bridge’s condition has deteriorated over the years as traffic has increased along the Highway 7 corridor between Harrison and Russellville. According to ArDOT, an average of 2,800 vehicles crossed the Pruitt Bridge per day in 2016 and 13% of those vehicles were large trucks.
Last July 10, clearing of the area began and closures were established to protect Buffalo National River visitors, resources, contractor staff and equipment.
Except for paddling and equestrian through-traffic, the Buffalo River and its banks from the Pruitt Bridge to the eastern edge of the cleared construction have been closed until further notice. Construction is not expected to affect access to Pruitt Landing on the east side of the bridge. Visitors may still use the swimming area upstream of the bridge at the Pruitt day use area, equestrian users may still access the Old River Trail/North River Road and hikers may still access the Mill Creek Trail during this time. The Pruitt Bluffs area will only be accessible by boat or by hiking upstream from the Lower Pruitt Landing area.
Vehicular traffic on Highway 7 continues as usual across the existing bridge during the construction project, according to ArDOT.
Also included in the current work underway is the Mill Creek Crossing project (Job BR5102). This crossing will replace the existing Newton County Road 213 low-water crossing at Mill Creek. Starting 0.2 mile east of Mill Creek and ending at the intersection of Newton County Road 213 and Highway 7, the total length of the project is 0.3 mile.
ArDOT awarded the contract to replace the bridges earlier this year. Crouse Construction got the contract with a bid of about $13.6 million.