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New Bridge Across Mississippi River on the Drawing Board

Wed December 24, 2008 - Southeast Edition
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BLYTHEVILLE, Ark. (AP) A roughly 20-mi. (32.1 km) toll road between Northeast Arkansas and Northwest Tennessee, including a bridge spanning the Mississippi River, could be built and shave more than 20 minutes off a trip to nearby Memphis, Tenn., engineers said.

Representatives of Davis and Floyd, an engineering and architecture firm in Columbia, S.C., said the bridge likely would cost more than $900 million. However, engineers said the federally earmarked project to connect Mississippi County in eastern Arkansas to Tennessee is needed as the two nearest bridges spanning the river are not prepared to withstand the effects of a powerful earthquake.

“Being this close to the New Madrid Fault, seismic retrofitting would be required,’’ engineer Mike Meetze told the Blytheville Courier News. One bridge spanning the river heading into Memphis was built in 1949 and has not been retrofitted, while the nearby bridge built in 1971 is in the process of being retrofitted, Meetze said.

A new bridge from Mississippi County would lessen the burden on the bridges, as well as connect Interstates 55 and 40 to Interstate 69, which is now under construction, Meetze said.

“There’s a true need for another bridge,’’ he said.

If funding is found for the project, Meetze estimated it would take three to four years to do the environmental studies necessary and then construction would take another three years or so.

“I think we could have it done by 2015,’’ Meetze said.

Money for the study performed by Davis and Floyd was appropriated in 2003 by the Federal Highway Administration and the Arkansas and Tennessee General Assemblies.

While the tolls collected for use of the bridge would help fund its construction, Meetze said it would not be enough.

Based on preliminary findings, Meetze said only 20 to 25 percent of the construction cost of the bridge connection could be funded with tolls. The remaining funds would have to be found within Federal Highway budgets and Arkansas and Tennessee state budgets, he said.

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