State transportation plan in limbo over Broadway Bridge questions, officials say


LITTLE ROCK — Questions about replacing the aging Broadway Bridge between Little Rock and North Little Rock have regional planning officials and the Arkansas Highway Commission at odds over the state’s long-term transportation improvement plan, transportation officials said Tuesday.

If the two sides can’t come to an agreement before the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept.30, the state Highway and Transportation Department could lose authority to spend federal funds in Pulaski, Saline, Faulkner and Lonoke counties, said Randy Ort, spokesman for the state Highway and Transportation Department.

Jim McKenzie, executive director of Metroplan, said he was optimistic an agreement can be reached.

“I don’t think (that) is a scenario anybody wants to play out,” McKenzie said.

State Highway Director Scott Bennett also has expressed similar sentiments.

The highway department has scheduled an Aug. 23 public hearing to discuss the location and design of the bridge. Metroplan’s next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 29, at which time a decision could be made, McKenzie said.

“We’ll have to see what the highway department proposes before we make a recommendation to our board,” he said.

The Highway Commission on Tuesday endorsed a draft of the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) for 2013-2016. The STIP is a list of all projects in the state proposed for federal funding that are scheduled during the four federal fiscal years.

Although the plan, which includes the $58 million Broadway Bridge project, can be amended, it must be submitted to federal highway officials and approved by the end of the current fiscal year for the state highway department to have authority to spend the federal funds next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1., Ort said.

The state plan must match similar Transportation Improvement Programs submitted by the state’s eight Metropolitan Planning Organizations, regional transportation groups located across the state, Ort said.

The concern is that the Broadway Bridge is listed as “pending” on the TIP submitted by Metroplan, Ort said, adding that the highway department must submit its statewide plan soon as possible so it can for approval by the end of September.

“We can’t submit it to the federal Highway Administration on Sept. 1 and expect them to approve it by the end of September,” Ort said. “That is not enough time.”

Last month, the Highway Commission rejected a proposal by Metroplan to refurbish the Broadway Bridge. Commissioners said they prefer replacing the 80-year-old span across the Arkansas River.

The vote came after mayors of Little Rock and North Little Rock presented the commission with a study that said the bridge could be refurbished for between $16 million and $24 million, far less than the $58 million to replace the structure.

Bennett said the department feels building a new bridge is the best approach.

Metroplan wants a bike/pedestrian space on the bridge wider than what the department’s current bridge proposal includes. McKenzie said the regional transportation authority also has concerns about the intersections at both ends of the bridge.

“I think folks of goodwill will figure out how to do something with the bridge, or decide to wait a year or more to do something with the bridge,” McKenzie said.