Wednesday, April 26, 2000

Rural Steel Recycling Drive Builds Overpass

The rural town of Gravette, Arkansas, is split in two. Thirty-eight trains a day-some lasting longer then 10 minutes-pass directly through the center of Gravette, denying access to the other half of town.

While this may pose only a minor inconvenience for most, this obstacle can have life-threatening implications in the case of emergency vehicles needing to get across town. The hospital, the fire department and the police department are all on the East Side of the railroad, delays at the train intersection present a large problem for emergency vehicles.

The citizens of Gravette believe they need an overpass to resolve this stopping point. But the Arkansas Highway Department has other priorities and a limited budget. So, the citizens have decided to take the task into their own hands.

“We’re going to build this bridge out of scrap steel,” said Gravette Mayor Dean Fladager.

The bridge won’t literally be built from scrap, but the rural town has kicked off a scrap drive where all benefits will go into the Overpass Fund, including a dollar for dollar, matching donation made by Applegarth’s Recycling, the local company where the scrap metal is being collected.

Since the drive started last spring, over 50 tons of scrap metal has been collected. The total of all contributions and pledges to date is more than $210,555 for the Overpass Fund.

“We’re cleaning up the countryside as well as building an overpass,” Fladager said.

Once a week, the city sends a truck around to collect steel. The town’s citizens have embraced the effort, donating their steel cans, old cars, farm equipment and other large steel.

According to Fladager, “All the ma’s and pa’s and the folks around the country side are making this happen.”

The small town’s scrap drive has even reached beyond the state’s borders. A company in Colcord, OK, is replacing its industrial driers and has offered to donate the old ones to the scrap metal drive in Gravette.

Fladager, a retired engineer, ran for mayor almost exclusively to get an overpass built. He started a petition which received nearly 2000 signatures-a good total considering the town’s population is a little under 2000.

Besides the scrap metal drive, the town has held other fund raisers, collected private donations and has received large donations from two local businesses, The Bank of Gravett and Shepherds Chapel.

Original estimates for the overpass were around $800,000, but Fladager believes that the actual cost will be lower. He made an initial investigation into the overpass, and realized that a conventional viaduct overpass would devastate the downtown area. Numerous businesses would be closed and many buildings would need to be removed. But he also found that only 2 city blocks away, there was an alternate crossing where the steep grade of the train tracks and the rise of the local landscape was ideal for a flat bridge crossing.

CONTECH, a North Little Rock design/build firm is completing designs for an overpass structure to fit this specific area. The firm’s system utilizes curved structural steel plates that form a tunnel-like structure over the railroad tracks. The steel is anchored in concrete, and then backfill is placed over the structure. A roadway can then be placed over that-an ideal situation for this new intersection.

CONTECH has used this type of overpass to span Kansas City Southern tracks before, but never in Arkansas. The cost of this type of overpass is significantly lower than the standard overpass.

“We’re demonstrating to Arkansas the goodness of this process, and the power of scrap,” Fladager said.

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