- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 16, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Federal Highway Administration wants engineers to explore more options before they move forward with replacement of a bridge that carries Interstate 30 drivers over the Arkansas River.

The agency, which has final approval over the $450 million project, said it wants engineers to explore other options available to lessen traffic between North Little Rock and Little Rock, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported (http://bit.ly/1oI99Xb ). It could take six to nine months for officials to decide whether to replace or rehabilitate and modify the existing, 50-year-old bridge, said Jerry Holder, the project’s construction manager.

A previous inspection of the bridge led project engineers to recommend a new one, saying that would be more cost effective than rehabilitating it. But Sandra Otto, the state’s administrator for the federal highway agency, told them the conclusion was premature and they should look at more than just the structure of the bridge.

“I said, ‘You know what? That makes great sense,’” Holder said.

About 125,000 vehicles travel daily across the bridge. Randy Ort, a spokesman for the state’s highway and transportation department, said it’s safe but the design is outdated.

“It is functioning fine, it is safe and it is serving its purpose,” he said. “But when we evaluate the future of the structure, we have to recognize it is an older design. Some designs are more conducive to rehabilitation than others.”

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com