Approximately a dozen community members learned first-hand of the efforts to save the Historic Ouachita River Bridge at Arkadelphia during a meeting at Arkadelphia Town Hall Thursday evening.

Approximately a dozen community members learned first-hand of the efforts to save the Historic Ouachita River Bridge at Arkadelphia during a meeting at Arkadelphia Town Hall Thursday evening.
Don Chaney of Friends of the Historic Ouachita River Bridge at Arkadelphia provided a thorough explanation of the group’s purpose.
According to Chaney, Arkadelphia Mayor James Calhoun was on the Arkadelphia City Board of Directors in 2011 when the plans were being hatched for the new bridge by the Arkansas Highway Department.
Chaney noted the highway department has a Historical Bridges Department. Representatives from this department contacted the city to inform them of the historic bridge preservation program and to gauge the city’s interest in participating in the program.
According to Chaney, Calhoun embraced the idea. As a result, a memorandum of understanding was formed between the City of Arkadelphia and the Arkansas Highway Department. Chaney noted the MOU is not binding and that any party can withdraw at any time.
Chaney noted that Calhoun presented a powerpoint presentation on the bridge to the Ouachita River Commission.
An application was submitted for a grant from the ORC to pay for half of the Phase I engineering study. The grant, which was approximately $6,000, was approved.
“The city did pay half of that grant,” said Chaney.
According to Chaney, the engineering report was designed to inventory the assets of the bridge.
“The highway department inspects bridges regularly to make sure they are safe. Our bridge has always been safe and the highway department has maintained it with patching it,” Chaney said.
Chaney then turned his attention to clarify an issue that had been released to the public.
“One of the things mentioned in the report is that it would cost $600,000 to replace the bridge deck. That had some people concerned,” said Chaney.
After the opening of the new Ouachita River Bridge, Chaney said the historic bridge division of the highway department communicated with the city to discuss taking action on the MOU.
According to Chaney, Arkadelphia City Manager Gary Brinkley inquired about the deadline to determine when the city would have to respond to the highway department.
After several meetings, it was determined that the deadline was Tuesday, Sept. 4. The city board had several discussions regarding the bridge during their June meetings.
Chaney reported that during the June 19 meeting of the Arkadelphia City Board, directors agreed their would be a July 17 deadline for the public to raise money for the Phase II engineering study.
“Then and only then are we going to know what the options are for going forward with the bridge,” said Chaney.
According to Chaney, the engineers who conducted the first study attended the June 5 meeting of the city board. They told directors that the bridge’s deck did not have to be replaced in order to maintain the bridge’s safety.
“The bridge could be maintained safely, just continue to patch as needed. They said that could be done at low cost,” Chaney explained.
Part of what the Phase II engineering study will answer is the meaning of low cost.
“The city board wants to know that because it is extremely important to them. The city board has made it clear that money is tight,” said Chaney, who noted that employees and streets are some of the city’s key priorities.
According to Chaney, the FOHORBA is not requesting funds from the city for bridge maintenance.
“No city funds are requested for this,” Chaney said.
In addition, Chaney said the Phase II study will identify options for use of the bridge and what those options will cost.
“The good news is, the heavy log trucks are off the bridge,” said Chaney, who also added the historic bridge preservation program will provide a grant to the city if they choose to accept the bridge.
“If a city or governmental entity will accept the transfer of ownership of a historic bridge then the highway department will give the city a cash grant, which will be a reimbursement grant, for the estimated demolition cost,” said Chaney.
The grant is estimated to be $189,000.
“If the city accepts the transfer of ownership, the highway department is going to give $189,000 to repurpose the bridge for a pedestrian park, biking park and to maintain the bridge,” Chaney said.
According to Chaney, the Phase II study will determine how long the $189,000 last. He also noted there are other grant sources available.
The cost for the Phase II study is $19,000. Although the Ouachita River Commission has agreed to pay for half of the cost of the study, Chaney and the FOHORBA are calling on the local community to help with the remainder of the cost.
“Our (FOHORBA) goal is to raise $10,000 before the city board deadline of July 17,” Chaney said.
According to Chaney, it will take approximately three months to complete the engineering study. In addition, the highway department is aware of the steps being taken to preserve the bridge. As a result, Chaney said the city now has until Monday, Dec. 3 to make its final decision.
“If we can raise the $10,000 by July 17 then the engineers have the three months they need to do their engineering study. The city board would have about a month to study the report before they make their decision,” Chaney said.
According to Tyler Freeman of FOHORBA, the previous bridge over the Ouachita River was a wooden bridge. It was replaced with the former bridge that was brought in from Caddo Valley in 1960.
Chaney said the plan is to install chainlink fences along the bridge and handrails as a safety precaution.
Contributions to FOHORBA may be delivered to any Southern Bancorp Bank lobby or drive through location, or made online through www.ouachitariverbridge.org, which links to the bridge’s Facebook page and Twitter account for online contributions.
For businesses interested in contributing, please send an email to ouachitariverbridge@gmail.com or call (870) 246-0600 to learn how a historic bridge contribution can promote your business at the same time.