Highway Department unveils 'mix and match' solution for new Beaver Bridge
BEAVER -- Around 60 to 70 people attended the public information meeting on the Beaver Bridge Tuesday, held by the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD).
AHTD has been in the process of holding public meetings and proceeding with a plan to replace the one-lane suspension bridge at the town of Beaver for the last three years.
Tuesday's meeting was to allow the public a chance to view the latest alternatives for building a new bridge and to talk with personnel from PBS&J, the firm hired by AHTD to conduct an environmental assessment.
Although AHTD's practice is to hold "open-house" style public meetings, where people view maps and documentation and ask questions of individual personnel, officials at Tuesday's meeting agreed to do an informal presentation at the request of two area residents who commented that AHTD's format does not allow attendees to hear each other's questions and answers to them.
Roy Highberg, Lead Planner for PBS&J, told the group his firm will be coming out with an environmental assessment document this fall, and there will be another public information session.
He said his firm has narrowed down the original five approaches for the new bridge to "six reasonable alternatives, three approaches on the west side and three from the east, and those can mix and match."
Most of the new alternatives try to avoid the loss of property owners' homes, but some of them come so close to the house as to be undesirable. AHTD can bring a highway within 25 feet of a property owner's home without taking the home.
Some of the alternatives, such as a route that goes over the existing Beaver walking trail, will require cuts in the bluff line as deep as 100 feet at the deepest part, he said.
That option would have the bridge at a height of 12 to 15 feet above the walking trail -- only a preliminary design, Highberg said, but it is an option many town residents oppose because of disturbing the tranquility of the trail.
Highberg said his firm had done video traffic studies at Highways 23 North and 187 and also at Highways 62 West and 187 to determine if there is a lot of truck traffic using Highway 187.
It has been a concern of local residents that building a new bridge to state highway standards will encourage 18-wheel semi tractor-trailers to come through the 187 valley and destroy the peace and safety of the area.
"There were no trucks that showed up on both videos," he said.
However, Susan Morrison-Woodward, a Beaver resident, said trucks do not use the route or the bridge -- in the daytime -- because they exceed the weight limits, and the truckers have been told to use another route.
"But they cross the bridge at night," she said. "Why can't we put up a height bar to keep them out?"
Highberg said there are less than 1,000 a vehicles per day that use the bridge and that there is twice as much traffic on Highway 23 as on Highway 62.
"This is not a project about diverting traffic," he said, "this is a project about a deficient bridge."
Local residents, however, remain unconvinced and believe AHTD is trying to create an alternate truck route for carriers to avoid going through Eureka Springs on Highway 62.
"It won't be a designated truck route," Highberg said. "They won't be prohibited, but that's not in the plan."
In answer to a question about whether improvements to Highway 187 over the next 15 years are in the plan, Highberg said he didn't know.
Highberg said the environmental assessment will include the human, cultural, historical and natural environments and "will try to document the effects of all six alignments on each of these environments."
He said there are no listed endangered species in the study area, but did note the heron rookery as a "non-listed" species.
The six alternatives range in cost from $9 to 17 million, from the shortest to longest routes respectively, he said.
In response to a question about whether the study will assess the effects on tourism of a new bridge, Glen Bolick of AHTD's Environmental Division said, "I'm not prepared to answer this question. We do not look at tourism dollars."
"We know that bridges in New Hampshire have been preserved for that very reason," said Morrison. "Why isn't this taken into consideration here?"
PBS&J and AHTD officials said they would collect comment forms for the next two weeks and would include a summary of them in the environmental assessment.