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Little Rock’s Big Dam Bridge

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jeff Walston
  • 913th Airlift Group
Few people know the longest purpose-built pedestrian/bicycle bridge in the world is in Little Rock.

The Big Dam Bridge, which is mounted on top of the Murray Lock and Dam, got its name from Pulaski County Judge F.G. “Buddy” Villines, who said, "We're going to build that dam bridge."

Villines envisioned the bridge bringing the cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock closer together while also promoting health and fitness.

"Bridges connect people and places. This one will attract people and be good for economic growth. Plus our culture has to change its ways. We have to be healthier," Villines said.

From conception to completion the project took eight years, and cost $16.5 million to build. The federal and state government contributed $12.5 million to the project, while Pulaski County picked up the remaining $4 million in construction costs.

The bridge was constructed by the Little Rock District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and contains three million pounds of steel and 20 million pounds of concrete. It was officially opened to the public during a ceremony on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2006.

Rising 90 feet above the Arkansas River and 30 feet over the dam, the bridge deck is 14 feet wide, allowing two-way traffic, and includes 4,226 lineal feet of bridge and ramps, spanning approximately 3,462 feet of the Arkansas River. It connects more than 7,000 acres of park land on both sides of the Arkansas River through the twenty-five mile Millennium Trail.

Many foot and cycling races take place there each year, including the Big Dam Bridge 100 cycling tour, the BDB Twilight 5k race and the BDB Duathlon.

Incorporated into the dam is a set of locks for boats to transverse the river. The locks are operated by gravity and the manipulation of filling and draining valves.

The power plant at the dam contains a hydro generator as part of the Arkansas River’s Hydroelectric System of four dams and 10 power plants on the river. The system has the potential to produce 3 billion kilowatt hours of electrical energy that can sustain power for 3 million average households each month. That power is distributed by a network of government and private transmission lines to cities, states and rural electric co-ops.

The dam brings many visitors to the area each year, and spurs economic growth. The Society of American Travel Writers listed it as one of the “Top 10 Bridge Travel Sites” in the U.S.