Clock ticks down on old bridge

By Beverly Ford/Delta Democrat Times

GREENVILLE — The Benjamin G. Humphreys Mississippi River Bridge will soon be a memory. The 70-year old bridge is slated to be demolished once the new Greenville Mississippi River Bridge opens for traffic.

Local real estate broker Mal Kretschmar finalized the lease on a 10.4 acre tract of land, located 4.7 miles north of the bridge, to Granite Construction Inc., of Watsonville, Calif., that will demolish the bridge.

Kretschmar said the two-lane bridge opened Oct. 4, 1940, and has the distinction of both ends actually being in Arkansas.

“The main span of the bridge is entirely in Arkansas and only the eastern piers of the approach road are positioned in Mississippi,” he said. “This is the only river bridge in the lower Mississippi River where the state line boundary does not follow the current main river channel.”

Not long after the bridge opened in 1940, it was recognized that there was a navigation hazard due to a swift current where the bridge is located. According to the Mississippi Department of Transportation, the bridge has sustained more barge collisions than any other bridge on the Mississippi River.

In 1950, an airplane from the Greenville Air Force Base crashed into the bridge. MDOT said despite the many collisions, the bridge remains structurally sound as ever.

Construction of the old bridge cost $4.5 million, and to remove it will cost $22 million.

Project manager Bob Pode said Granite will be able to recycle all the steel and concrete removed.

“We are still looking for mills to send the concrete and steel to,” he said. “We’re looking in the region for mills that can recycle this type of material.”

Pode said they are getting everything in place and will begin the project March 11.

“We’ll be getting our construction trailers in next week and start setting up our offices here,” he said. “And then we’ll begin the first phase of the project.”

Phase one will be to open the new bridge for traffic. Pode said they will apply a latex modified concrete overlay on the surface of the new bridge, stripe the lanes, put up the appropriate road signs and tie in the new route to the bridge approaches.

The bridge is schedule to open to traffic July 28, and the old Benjamin G. Humphreys Bridge will close the same day.

Once the Humphreys Bridge has closed, Pode and his crew can begin the systematic demolition.

“We will begin in the center span, and we’ll have strand jacks mounted on top of the bridge,” said Pode. “The hydraulic strand jacks will allow us to lower sections onto a barge to be moved on for recycling.”

The underwater concrete pylons will be removed to a certain depth as to not cause an obstruction for river traffic.

“The concrete that is underwater will be removed to level 60, which is a depth safe enough so they don’t present a hazard to any ship or vessel coming through the channel,” he said.

Granite will remove portions of the U.S. Highway 82 approaches, and, said Pode, the materials will be recycled as well.

“Some of the approach road material will be reused,” he said. “And parts of 82 will stay in place. Harlow’s will have a loop off of Highway 454 that will cross 82 connecting to their property. And 82 on the Arkansas side will provide access to Farmer’s Grain and the road to the Chicot County State Park.”

Pode added the levees would be restored to a higher elevation as well.

The contract for demolition will expire Sept. 21, 2012, and Pode expects the work to be done before the end of the contract. He also said that Granite and their subcontractors will be filling approximately 20 positions locally.

“We’ll begin advertising for general construction labor and operators in the late summer,” he said. “And we’ll have 10 of our staff moving into the area as well.”

Pode said their biggest challenge with the demolition will be Mother Nature.

“The problem with this particular bridge will be trying to get the work done at the right water level,” he said. “A good portion of this bridge is inside the levee in the wetlands, and we’re going to need a little help from Mother Nature.”

The new bridge has the fourth longest cable stayed span in America. The 2-1/2 mile bridge deck, with its two 425 foot concrete towers above the Mississippi River and concrete piers anchored 120 feet into the riverbed, is considered to be state-of-the art, and MDOT said, “It is a spectacular crossing over one of America’s most storied rivers.”