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New Arkansas River Bridge Opening Marks a 30 Crossing Project Milestone

by: Mark Bird
Installation of structural steel takes place for the new I-30 eastbound Arkansas River Bridge in Little Rock.
Installation of structural steel takes place for the new I-30 eastbound Arkansas River Bridge in Little Rock.
Asphalt paving takes place on the 4th Street on ramp to I-30 eastbound.
Asphalt paving takes place on the 4th Street on ramp to I-30 eastbound.
Installation of structural steel takes place for the new bridge.
Installation of structural steel takes place for the new bridge.
A crew member welds the structural steel for the new I-30 eastbound Arkansas River Bridge.
A crew member welds the structural steel for the new I-30 eastbound Arkansas River Bridge.
Multiple cranes were required for construction of the new bridge.
Multiple cranes were required for construction of the new bridge.
Crews install metal decking in preparation for reinforcing steel and concrete roadway.
Crews install metal decking in preparation for reinforcing steel and concrete roadway.
A Manitowoc 999 Crane lifts a piece of structural steel for the new bridge.
A Manitowoc 999 Crane lifts a piece of structural steel for the new bridge.
A worker installs concrete panels on the I-30 Arkansas River Bridge.
A worker installs concrete panels on the I-30 Arkansas River Bridge.
An aerial view of the new I-30 Arkansas River Bridge open to traffic. Demolition of the existing river bridge is in the background.
An aerial view of the new I-30 Arkansas River Bridge open to traffic. Demolition of the existing river bridge is in the background.
With the recent opening of a new Arkansas River Bridge on Interstate 30 in Little Rock, Arkansas's massive 30 Crossing Project has reached a major milestone. Over several weeks in September, traffic was shifted onto the new bridge (which will ultimately be the eastbound span) in three phases. Work is now underway on demolition of the existing river bridge, in preparation for construction of a second, westbound span in its place.

The new Arkansas River Bridge is a primary component of the 30 Crossing Project, which is the Arkansas Department of Transportation's (ArDOT) largest ever. The $633 million first phase of what will eventually be a multi-phase project, will ease congestion and reduce travel times in one of the most heavily utilized corridors in the state. This phase encompasses the Arkansas River bridge replacement and multiple other improvements meant to address roadway deterioration associated with constant heavy traffic along I-30.

The old bridge had three lanes in each direction. When both new bridges are complete, there will be three through lanes in each direction, two collector/distributor lanes in each direction and an auxiliary lane in each direction – to aid in weaving and merging decisions for traffic getting onto the bridge. With this total of 12 lanes, and full width shoulders all around, the result will be a safer, more efficient corridor through the downtown Little Rock area.

Keli Wylie, P.E., Alternative Project Delivery Administrator with ArDOT, comments on the importance of full width shoulders on the new bridges. “The issue with the old bridge was that there were no shoulders, which caused a huge problem when an incident occurred because cars could not pull over out of the traffic lanes. The 7-mile-long I-30 corridor was built in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and did not meet current standards. Full width shoulders are a huge safety and operational improvement; the accident rate along this stretch is about three times more than the Arkansas average.”

The I-30 Arkansas River Bridge – originally opened in 1957 – had become the most traveled bridge in the state, averaging 126,000 vehicles per day. This amount is projected to be 143,000 vehicles per day by 2045. Its replacement was considered a priority of the 30 Crossing Project due to structural fatigue, the lack of beams sharing the load of its pin and hanger assembly, and columns deemed inadequate should a seismic event occur.

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Building the new bridge also provided the opportunity to relocate bridge piers and improve the navigational path for river freight. One of the bridge's piers was inside the navigation channel, creating a hazard for the boats which carry billions of tons of goods annually on the Arkansas River.

The old bridge had been constructed prior to implementation of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System. As Wylie explains, “The existing river channel had been created after I-30 was originally constructed. With increased river traffic, specific width requirements were needed, and the old bridge had the only remaining pier. Barges had to ‘thread the needle’ along one side of the pier or the other. Now the entire channel is clear of the infrastructure of the bridge; there is no longer a pier blocking it.”

Demolition of the existing Interstate 30 bridge will take place in four parts. The bridge’s concrete deck will first be broken up with excavators, with river barges catching and removing debris. Structural steel will then be removed with a crane, then piers and their foundations in the riverbed will be removed using both explosives and excavators.

The bridge demo will take eight to 10 months, Wylie reports, “The way the old bridge is designed and built, it's more complex to demo without causing collapse or premature failure.”

ArDOT awarded the design-build 30 Crossing Project contract – the first design-build delivery in the department's history – to the joint venture Kiewit Massman Construction (KMC). Burns and McDonnell of Kansas City, Missouri, and HDR of Omaha, Nebraska, serve as the design partners; Kiewit Infrastructure South Co. of Dallas, Texas, and Massman Construction of Overland Park, Kansas, are the construction partners. Construction began in fall 2020, and completion of this first phase is projected for mid-2025.

New Interchange Design Creates Potential for New Greenspace
On another part of the project, the I-30/Highway 10 interchange – the primary entrance into downtown Little Rock – will be reconstructed as a split-diamond interchange – which has its ramps "split" between two crossroads. This will remove the clover leaf ramps and provide direct ramp access with the frontage roads. When complete, it will diffuse traffic entering downtown streets and create an expansive area for greenspace or redevelopment.
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“In 2015 and 2016, when we were looking at Highway 10 configurations for a reconstruction, there was a real desire expressed to get rid of all the infrastructure in that greenspace,” says Wylie. “So, we went back to the drawing board to minimize ramps and maintain traffic flow. The diamond design minimized the interchange footprint, and we developed a modified diamond design that separates the ramps to different city streets, utilizing the city grid for traffic movement. That will open up about 16 acres of urban greenspace.

“People ask why we are not selling off the public space created by the reconstruction. We might need it in the future, and in the meantime we want to retain the integrity of the space and develop some level of greenspace. After the 30 Crossing Project is complete and all the equipment is removed, the city will present a formal plan for that space. Initially, we will just plant trees, add pedestrian lighting, etc.”

Long-Planned Project is Moving Ahead on Schedule
The concept for the overall 30 Crossing Project has been in the planning stage for over 20 years. The current project is envisioned as just the first phase of an even larger undertaking, as Wylie relates. “This project was planned in 2014. There was a set amount of available funding, not enough to do the entire planned project. The Arkansas River Bridge was the priority.

“So, what is considered Phase 1 includes what the available $633 million budget will do, and includes areas of construction in Little Rock and North Little Rock along the I-30 corridor. Remaining portions of the 30 Crossing project will be constructed in future phases, which will develop as funds become available. Eventually we will widen and reconstruct the entire corridor, completing the remainder of the total vision.”

In addition to the new Arkansas River Bridge, the project's components include improvements to other bridges on I-30 and the widening of I-30 through Little Rock and North Little Rock, impacting I-30 from the Interstate 530 interchange north to the I-40 interchange; approximately 1.75 miles of I-40 from Highway 107 east to the Highway 67 interchange; and the Interstate 630 interchange. The work includes re-striping the existing shoulders and lanes on eastbound I-30 in North Little Rock to create a fourth lane by narrowing the shoulder width.

With the Arkansas River Bridge completion, KMC is now at work on the project's other components along the corridor, reports Kevin Swaving, Kiewit Massman Project Manager. “A new wider bridge over I-30 will be constructed at 6th Street, with completion expected for next spring. At the north interchange, work is underway on two bridges. I-30 and I-40 currently each have to cross through other, but reconstruction will bring eastbound traffic in on the left, and I-40 traffic on the right. We've also just started re-doing the westbound I-30 bridge to I-630.

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“This is a good, straightforward project, with a good team,” he adds. “ArDOT is good to work with, and things have progressed well. We've had no major obstacles. The first traffic switch onto the new bridge was completed on-time, which was an important and exciting milestone for commuters.”

Improvements Projected Along the Entire I-30 Corridor
The 30 Crossing Project is enhancing one of the most traveled roads in Arkansas. The first phase and the planned future phases will bring major improvements to a primary transportation connection through the central part of the state. Wylie says, “The scope of the 30 Crossing Project encompasses the entire I-30 corridor – a full 7.5 miles of reconstruction and improvements. We're very proud of this project and what it will bring to the area, and pleased with our partners. From the time construction began in September of 2020, KMC has kept the project almost exactly on schedule. The Phase 1 projected timeline is mid-2025, and we are likely meet or beat that.

“This is the largest project ARDOT has undertaken, with a cost that is more than our entire budget of just a few years ago. It's a very important project in the middle of Little Rock and North Little Rock LR and NLR – with expected large growth in the area, we need to move all that traffic, improve access, and increase safety. It's a project that benefits everybody.”

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