CLEVELAND – The proposed Great River Bridge project is probably still six to eight years away from completion. But if a new bridge across the Mississippi River near here is built, it is expected to be the biggest economic development boon ever seen in Bolivar County.
“We have been working on this since 1983,” said Lucy Janoush, chair of the bridge committee at the Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Arkansas-Mississippi Great River Bridge Compact. “It has been slow, but now we are to the point where we have something happening. I think it is going to be the catalyst that we have never had. We have done a fairly good job with economic development, but lack of transportation has always been a critical issue for us. This will probably get us lookers we never had before.”
Has it taken too long for the bridge to come to Boliver County? Public works projects of this size take an average 26-year timespan.
“Are we running on time?,” Janoush asks. “Maybe.”
Although just across the river, Boliver County residents have been cut off from neighbors in Arkansas. The bridge will allow more cross-state interactions for social, cultural and business activities.
“The bridge will create closer ties to Arkansas,” Janoush said. “Those people have been our neighbors for a long time. We just never could get to them. The bridge is going to help build the state university here (Delta State) because it will be convenient for Arkansas students to zip across the river to attend class.”
Ancil Cox, a Cleveland attorney who is co-chairman of the Arkansas-Mississippi Great River Bridge Compact, said it still hasn’t been decided for certain if the bridge will be two-lanes, carrying an estimated 3,000 cars per day, or if it will serve as the bridge for Interstate 69, in which case the estimated number of cars per day climbs to 21,000.
“It appears to us the sky is the limit if we really have an interstate highway come through Bolivar County,” Cox said. “Everyone knows transportation has a strong bearing on economic development. People who come to an area want tri-modal transportation.”
While the decision about siting the interstate isn’t final, Cox said there is agreement that only one new bridge will be placed across the Mississippi River here. So officials are hopeful that the Great River Bridge will also be the bridge for Interstate 69.
Cox likens the Mississippi River to the Great Wall of China. It has been a major barrier, one that has affected transportation and trade. To cross the river residents have to travel north to Helena or south to below Greenville.
“We’re hopeful the project is in its last stages,” Cox said. “We hope to get the final environmental study in the next month that will then be submitted to the federal highway department.”
HNTB Corp. is the planning firm helping Arkansas and Mississippi prepare the environmental impact statements needed to go forward on the project. Blaise Carriere, vice president in charge of the Baton Rouge, La., office of HNTB Corp., said they are nearing completion of the planning phase of the project, and hope to begin building soon.
The exact location of the crossing hasn’t yet been decided. But new alternative, the fifth considered so far, starts at U.S. 65 on the north edge of McGehee, Ark. connecting with U.S. 1 in Mississippi a short distance north of Benoit. That crossing site drew support from people attending recent public hearings on the issue in Dumas, Ark., and Cleveland.
A “cable-stayed” structure for the bridge is being considered as the most cost-efficient design. Two 450-foot towers anchored 200 feet in the ground would support the cables hooked onto the top of the bridge deck.
Carriere said the cable-stayed structure provides two important advantages: It is more economical than bridges that use more steel trusses. And, it allows wider clearance between bridge piers, an advantage because river barge tows are bigger than ever. The cable-stayed bridge allows a big channel in the middle of the river.
The main bridge structure will be 3,200 feet long. Highway approaches also have to be built. The cost of the project, including the approaches, will be an estimated $517 million to $704 million.
A final environmental impact statement required by the Federal Highway Administration is due by the end of the year. If the site is approved, the Arkansas and Mississippi highway departments can start work on the design and right-of-way acquisition, which will take an estimated three to five years. Construction of the bridge is expected to take about two and a half years.
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.