Bridge meet draws crowd
More than 50 people came to a public hearing Thursday at the Beaver Fire Station to ask questions and express their concerns about the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) building a new bridge at Beaver.
An informal poll clearly showed the feelings of most attendees when Beaver Meadows resident Bob Messer asked for a show of hands of those who don't want a new bridge at all, and nearly every hand went up.
AHTD brought several large maps of four new proposed bridge sites and approaches to the meeting.
These new proposed sites and approaches were generated partly based on the department's consideration of historical, environmental and archeological sites in the Beaver area.
There are some Native American artifact sites in the area, although the department will not make those public, officials said.
Routes 1, 2 and 3 use the existing Highway 187 route coming from the east down to the present bridge location (not numbered according to AHTD preference, but from west to east).
The new plan would cut off the sharp corner at the top of the hill where the road turns past the home of Georgia "Peaches" Holland.
At the foot of the hill, all three routes go through Beaver Meadows, but Routes 1 and 2 site a new bridge south of the Butler Creek arm of Table Rock Reservoir.
After crossing the lake, the approaches require new road-building, which now avoids the blue heron rookery, but cuts across privately owned pasture and residential land.
Some of that land includes parts of Butler Creek, which is upstream of the heron rookery.
Both these routes would require a second bridge crossing the creek.
Routes 3 and 4 site a bridge across the Beaver walking trail. On the opposite side, they cross pasture land and private homesites and meet up with Highway 187 just east of the Beaver Fire Station.
Route 4 diverges to the west from the current 187 before the Holiday Island turnoff and cuts across large portions of developed and undeveloped land before descending to Beaver Meadows and siting a bridge not far from the existing bridge.
All of the above routes will take out private homes in varying numbers.
AHTD officials said it is also possible to combine routes.
The night before the hearing, a number of Beaver Meadows residents and other area homeowners gathered at the home of Rick and Darlene Boeshart to discuss options.
AHTD Senior Environmental Scientist Lynn Malbrough was invited to that meeting to answer questions. Former Carroll County Judge Ed Robertson was also present.
Residents wanted to know what had happened to the possibility of connecting Highways 62 West and 23 North with a pass-through near Lake Leatherwood Park.
"We eliminated that as an option last year," Malbrough said, "when the Carroll County Quorum Court declined to take over Highway 187 and the Beaver Bridge because of lack of funds.
The state doesn't want (the current) Highway 187 in the system if we have to build a new Highway 187," he said.
He said the highway department has set a standard for its state highways.
"Part of the problem is that we have a state highway with a deficient bridge on it."
Malbrough said at the hearing that the department "tries to get rid of one-lane roads" and "one-way bridges," which includes the Beaver Bridge and the one-lane bridge at Elk Ranch, also scheduled to be replaced.
"It goes back to the safety section (of our requirements)," he said, "of being able to provide two-way traffic at a minimum."
Malbrough said that in all the proposed sites, the new bridge would extend onto the land on either side of the lake, not just stop at the water, as the current bridge does.
It would have to, he said, because of the engineering required to build a bridge capable of handling 18-wheel semitractor/trailer traffic loads. The impact would be significant.
There are no plans in the forseeable future to upgrade or widen Highway 187 to handle 18-wheel trucks, he also said.
He told Beaver Mayor Jim Young in a meeting earlier this month there is "no money in the state budget for roads for at least 15 years."
Many residents have expressed concerns this would create a dangerous traffic hazard on Highway 187's many curves.
AHTD has not stated a preference among the four new proposed sites and approaches.
E.C. "Butch" Martin, AHTD engineer out of Harrison, said the highway department "usually" chooses the cheapest route.
"Usually the least costly is the shortest," he said, "which in this case would be Route 3.
"But it also considers what is least costly in terms of what it takes to construct it, which means dealing with traffic. Choosing Routes 1 or 2 would not disturb current traffic."
AHTD will take the public comment forms it received at the hearing and consider them in its plans.
Malbrough said the process will continue with the department generating a "Finding of No Significant Impact" statement or building a new bridge.
Beaver attorney Bill Hill challenged that statement, noting the department could just as easily find there are impacts significant enough to halt or alter the project.
Malbrough said that by this fall the department will either decide on a preferred route or continue the process of looking at alternatives.
When and if it does make a decision, another public hearing will be held. He said the department has not yet done any detailed environmental assessment studies. That will come at a later time.
The department is estimating construction of the new bridge to begin in 2005.