PRUITT — It was a piece of history. It was an Ozarks’ landmark. But it was also a concern for many people driving over it each day. It was the ol’ Pruitt bridge.
There’s a new bridge in Pruitt. And the old one was permanently destroyed Wednesday when a blasting company dropped it with near-surgical accuracy exactly where it was supposed to fall.
Crouse Construction of Harrison was contracted by the Arkansas Department of Transportation to build a new bridge over the Buffalo National River at Pruitt. That bridge has been open for several weeks.
The old bridge was set for demolition from the start of the project. A drive by numerous people in the area trying to raise money to save the old structure as a walking bridge didn’t prove successful. Newton County authorities declined to take on the bridge as county property.
Crouse Construction officials explained that the bridge was in much worse shape than they originally thought when they began removing the asphalt and decking. It was so shaky that they said they wouldn’t have driven their heavy equipment across it had they known before tearing it apart. They also indicated that anyone who was concerned about driving on the bridge had justification for those concerns.
After everything but the steel structure had been removed, Dykon Blasting moved in to do the final demolition.
Newton County Sheriff Glenn Wheeler said a Dykon crew identified the places where cuts should be made in the structure to make it fall as smoothly as possible. The idea was for the majority of the bridge to fall onto a work road Crouse built under the bridge. The Dykon crew then set the blasting charges Tuesday night and Wheeler said a deputy was stationed at the bridge overnight to guard the charges.
Officials made extensive plans to minimize the impact on the area during the explosion event. Dykon officials said Wednesday morning that they planned to detonate the charges at 11 a.m. on the dot.
Newton County deputies, Arkansas State Police troopers, National Park Service rangers and Arkansas Highway Police were stationed across the area to make sure no one was within a 1,200-foot radius of the bridge. They closed down state Highway 7 and county roads within that distance about 10:35 a.m.
On top of Paradise Hill south of the bridge, Harrison Police set up a drone system complete with a large-screen TV in the back of a trailer. HPD Lt. Mike Toland flew the drone and some spectators watched as he homed in on the ideal location for recording video. Once the location was marked, he flew the drone back to the top of the hill and changed the battery so it would have plenty of power for the whole event.
With the highway closed down and officers making sure everyone was out of the area, the waiting began. Toland parked the drone hovering high over the bridge at a safe distance and used the zoom capability of the camera to watch the impending demolition.
At straight up 11 a.m., the charges were detonated. The drone transmitted the signal to the TV and the old bridge went down in a matter of less than two seconds. A cloud of smoke and dust shrouded the area for a little while, but when it cleared the bridge structure could be seen on the ground. Dykon crews moved in to make certain all explosive charges had detonated.
The highway was opened again about 11:20. A steady stream of northbound vehicles took about four minutes to make their way past the Paradise Hill pull-off and everything appeared to be back to normal again.
A few minutes later, Crouse Construction workers were back on the scene. Standing on the new bridge and looking at the remaining pieces of the bridge, it was obvious that the structure fell directly on the road built below the bridge as was planned.
“That was exactly what we wanted it to do,” Crystal Crouse with Crouse Construction told the Daily Times”
Crouse said Thursday morning that crews had removed all the steel structure from the work road and anything that had fallen in the river was gone by 6 p.m. Wednesday. Once everything is moved away from the river, including the concrete piers that once supported the bridge, even the construction road will be removed and the Pruitt access will once again look much like it always has.
Crouse said everyone who worked on and around the project, from her crews to ARDOT to local contractors who supplied materials at need, worked together well to see the project be a success.
“It was perfection,” Crouse said.