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by Stan Morris
POCAHONTAS, Ark. – The historic Black River Bridge in Pocahontas shut down for the final time Thursday, July 7.
The next time the path over Black River is four-lanes, an entirely new bridge will handle half of the payload. The new bridge is expected to be complete in 2018.
Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department District 10 Engineer Walter McMillan told NEA Report that Thursday was the final day for the aging structure.
The Black River Bridge was finished in 1934 and rotated on a large, cylinder pier which remains to this very day to allow river traffic to pass. It rotated until 1986, when the bridge next to it was constructed to help ease traffic flow.
Now, for the first time in 30 years, Pocahontas will have to live with one bridge across the river, two-lanes, and a two-year wait that may feel like an eternity.
Expecting heavy traffic congestion, McMillan said workers were adjusting light signals today to help the flow.
“The signal at McDonalds, and the one down at the 62/67 intersection, everything will occur between those two signals,” McMillan said. “Our traffic folks have been looking at this and they are up today to adjust the timing on those signals where it will provide better clearout at those intersections for the north and southbound traffic.”
McMillan has decades of experience working on projects like the bridge deconstruction, along with the new construction. Some of that experience taught him helpful steps which could be taken to reduce traffic congestion. One very helpful solution is for businesses to let workers come in at slightly different times, so everyone doesn’t need to arrive at once.
“I was the engineer in Paragould when we built the southbound bridge in 86, 87, and at that time, some of the industry did that and it helped with the traffic,” McMillan said. “We think it would be a good idea.”
McMillan said the area where vehicles pass over, the deck, will come down first. Then, the structure and truss spans will be brought down. He did not know a date of when, exactly, but explosive demolitions are planned to bring the structure down.
First settled in 1815, and then called “Bettis Bluff,” Pocahontas was described by 1838 as, “one of the most flourishing towns in the state,” in the publication “Towns and Communities in Randolph County.” The development occurred at such a pace because of river traffic, the primary trade route for the area. Most of the population traveling to and from Randolph County came in through steamboat.
Plans began in Dec. 1929 to seek U.S. Congressional approval to create the structure, which was achieved. A lapse in the scheduled time for construction later required approval by the War Department in 1932.
By 1934, the Black River Bridge was completed. On Nov. 27, the Attorney General of Arkansas, W.L. Pope, spoke to commemorate the occasion.
“Today, this community takes its place among the favored ones of the nation advantageously located on a trunk highway that traverses the continent, the longest highway in the world,” Pope said, according to historic records.