NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark — People have been asking THV11 for nearly a year about a bridge that was closed by the City of North Little Rock. The 14th Street Bridge is slated for demolition, but it got a temporary reprieve Monday.
The North Little Rock City Council had on its agenda an ordinance to abandon the bridge and the right of way over Union Pacific’s railroad track, in exchange for $75,000 from Union Pacific. Since Mayor Joe Smith and three council members were out of town at a meeting, however, the council deferred debate until its next meeting.
People who live and work near the bridge hope that delay allows the 94-year-old bridge to stay right where it is.
“It’s gonna hurt me to see it go,” Baron Rosby, Jr. said “It’s been a big convenience for us, man, because this train has been an inconvenience for a lot of people.”
Rosby still uses the bridge, one of many people who continue to walk across it despite signs and barricades meant to close it to vehicles and pedestrians. Rosby, a North Little Rock native, said he has walked or biked across the bridge ever since he was a young boy going to play at the nearby Boys and Girls Club.
“Basketball,” he said with a smile. “Basketball, basketball, basketball.”
He called the bridge a legacy of North Little Rock. “Everyone always criticizes this bridge because it’s old,” he said. “They look at it and they don’t want to go across it. But, man, this is the strongest bridge ever. I mean, look at the old (Broadway) bridge. It took 93 years and dynamite and it didn’t go anywhere.”
City leaders disagree with Rosby’s opinion about the bridge’s structural integrity. They closed it in 2017 following an inspection by the Arkansas Department of Transportation.
The bridge was the only elevated railroad crossing between Riverfront Drive and Pershing Road before it closed. There are several other crossings, including at 13th and 18th streets, where drivers are forced to wait when a train arrives.
Jack Zini, who has worked at Arkansas Tool and Die’s facility at the western foot of the bridge for 50 years, said trains tend to stop at that spot as they wait to enter Union Pacific’s railyard.
“It sits as much as three hours,” he claimed. “I have absolutely had to take a truck, drive to Stuttgart, and when I got there and came back—that’s about an hour and 15-minute trip, each way—that train was still there. The car with that number on it was still sitting there.”
Since the alternate routes are more than a mile away, Zini said he has seen tragedies occur when people try to sneak past the trains, even crawling under them on occasion. “And I hate to say it,” he mentioned, “but I’ve seen bad accidents from that.”
A spokesman for the City of North Little Rock has told THV11 that emergency response times would not be affected by the closure of the bridge. Zini disputed that notion, recalling the story of a coworker who nearly bled to death because of a work-related accident. “And that bridge saved his life,” he said, “because the ambulance couldn’t get past the train that was parked on the tracks, had to come across that bridge, and got in here to take care of him.”
Rosby said that, although he loves and uses the bridge, he believes $75,000 is a good offer for the city. Both he and Zini would like to see a new bridge built in its place, whether it accommodates cars or just pedestrians.
Zini said he see a man roll a wheelchair across the bridge and believes the man would not be able to make the long trip around a parked train. He also it’s invaluable to many of the people who walk over it.
“And they’re on foot, and that’s a service to them, to where they can go to work,” he explained.
The proposed ordinance will be placed on the next North Little Rock City Council agenda, for its meeting on March 25. The city’s engineer is also working on a draft of a possible replacement bridge, at the request of the mayor, which he is expected to present to the city council at that time.