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Old Pruitt bridge: Some parts can’t be “salvaged for scrap’

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PRUITT — You’ve seen it as a landmark. Your parents and possibly even grandparents have seen it that way, too. After nine decades, the Pruitt bridge will come down, officials say.

Crouse Construction of Harrison was contracted to build a new bridge over the Buffalo National River. It’s now open and the old bridge will be imploded today, Wednesday, if the weather cooperates.

And by looking at the old bridge with all the decking and pavement removed, it’s probably past time for that to happen.

Crystal Crouse with Crouse Construction is overseeing the entire project.

“The deck of the bridge was really keeping the majority of the structure in place,” Crouse said. “Pavement was really what was keeping it together.”

She explained that some of the X-member support braces were so corroded they began to fall when the pavement was removed.

Bridge foreman Eddie Mitchell said two concrete slabs started on either end of the old bridge and met on the center pier. When the two-inch layer of asphalt atop the concrete was taken up, they found that the concrete slabs were barely touching the beam on the pier under it, which Crouse said was the main strength for the bridge.

Some of the beams on which the decking rested showed daylight through corroded holes. Crouse said much of the steel structure is in such bad shape that it can’t even be salvaged for scrap.

Mitchell said some of the massive beams for the new bridge were hauled in from the south and over the bridge. Had they known the condition of the bridge at that time, they wouldn’t have crossed the bridge.

Crouse and Mitchell and their crew are largely from Boone and Newton counties. Crouse said her grandfather lived in Jasper and used the bridge daily. They recognize the gravity of a landmark that many people wanted to save.

“I know it’s an old, historic work of art, but it’s needing to come down,” Mitchell said. “What we were driving on was rotten.”

“This is a kind of special project for us as a company because it means a lot to us just like it does to everybody else,” Crouse added.

She went on to say she went to great lengths to find a way to save the bridge, but there was no way.

“And if I couldn’t save it, I wanted to keep as much of it in Newton County as I could,” Crouse said.

Crouse said she and Mitchell got together with Newton County Sheriff Glenn Wheeler and the Newton County Historical Society to make a plan — they will donate portions of the bridge trusses that are still safe to the historical society.

Crouse explained the process that will take place next week.

Dykon Blasting of Tulsa, Oklahoma, has been contracted to bring the old bridge down. Their engineers will identify key points to cut in the steel and place explosives that should bring the majority of the old bridge down onto a road that was created under the bridge to keep debris from going into the river.

It would be a sight to see, but you won’t be able to. In fact, not even the blasting crew will be able to watch in person.

Crouse said 1,200 feet must be cleared all around the bridge. With the topography of Newton County, there is nowhere within that 1,200-foot area where the bridge can be seen. So, they will use a drone to monitor the explosion from that safe distance.

That’s where law enforcement will come in.

Wheeler explained that a safety plan is in place using his department, Arkansas State Police and the National Park Service. Although there’s no exact time for the explosion to take place, those officers will be ready.

When they get the word it’s about to happen, they will shut down Highway 7 and side roads within the 1,200-foot area. The Park Service will shut down the river.

“It shouldn’t be shut down for a long time,” Wheeler said. “We’re going to estimate an hour; it will probably be less.”

After the explosions are over, the blasting crew must inspect the site to make sure that all charges detonated. Then the area can be opened again, Wheeler said.

According to a National Park service statement, vehicle traffic on Highway 7, County Roads 80 and Pruitt-Yardell will be impacted for approximately one hour during the blasting portion of the demolition. The area will be swept and reviewed for safety concerns after the blast. When cleared, trails, roads and the Lower Pruitt river access will be opened to traffic. After the blast, the Buffalo River within the safety perimeter will be closed up to 24 hours as cleanup procedures are conducted.

“Construction schedules for a project of this size can fluctuate when they are initiated,” the statement said. “These delays and closures may be extended to maintain public safety.”

Crouse said the only thing that will stop the project is if so much rain falls that that the river rises and covers the road where the steel will fall.

Once the metal framing is cleared, crews will go in with excavators to pull down the piers and remove all that debris.

Wheeler said the demolition will be a truly historic event, although sad. Mitchell agreed.

“As sad as it is to see it go down, it’s also an honor to be a part of it,” Mitchell said. “The bridge was an awesome structure. But it’s within its time.”

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