Temporary lane closures are expected to continue on the Interstate 540 Arkansas River bridge between Fort Smith and Van Buren through the fall as contractors continue a paint job that began in June.
Jason Hughey, District 4 construction engineer for the Arkansas Department of Transportation, said the lane closures are necessary for space to safely park painting crew support vehicles.
Elite Industrial Painting of Tarpon Springs, Fla., is the contractor for this “specialized” paint job which costs more than $3.26 million, Hughey added.
According to Lynn Alexander of Elite Industrial Painting Inc., the paint job is about 50 percent complete and is expected to be wrapped up in mid-October.
The bridge was opened in 1967 and named for Clarence C. Byrns, a former editor of the Fort Smith newspapers Southwest American and Times Record. It has been 31 years since the structural steel for the bridge was last painted, Hughey noted in an email. The industry standard for this kind of paint job is a 10-12 year lifespan, Alexander said.
Between 17 and 20 workers with Elite Industrial Painting have worked on the Byrns Bridge job, which calls for “blasting” and then painting three coats of paint — primer, intermediate and finish — on 579,874 square feet of the girder bridge. Recyclable steel was used as the abrasive, Alexander added.
The Sherwin Williams paints used are a zinc clad primer, a recoatable epoxy primer and a hi-solid polyurethan gray.
According to the January 1967 issue of Arkansas Highway Magazine, the bridge’s dedication was held Dec. 29, 1966. A groundbreaking was held in 1964, and the bridge cost $4.36 million to construct by the E.E. Barber Construction Co.
“The Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce sponsored the program and J. Fred Patton, immediate past chairman of the Chamber’s Highway Committee, acted as master of ceremonies,” the Arkansas Highway Magazine article reads. “Governor Orval Faubus, who was on hand for the groundbreaking in 1965, made the dedicatory address and cut the ribbon.”
The article goes on to explain that the bridge dedication was one of the last official acts for Faubus. Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller was inaugurated on Jan. 10, 1967. Barber’s crews finished the bridge more than 100 days ahead of the 750-day schedule “to keep his promise to the governor” that the bridge would be finished before Faubus finished his term. Barber “had just made it,” Faubus said.
“The Chamber of Commerce paid honor to the late Clarence F. Byrns, local newspaper publisher and civic worker fondly known as the ‘father of Arkansas River navigation,’ by recounting to the dedication crowd how Mr. Byrns had untiringly worked for the river navigation program, and by requesting Mrs. Byrns was presented a bouquet of red roses by E.B. Sparks, Chamber president.”
A group of 1930s and ’40s antique cars was among the first to be driven across the newly dedicated bridge. Faubus and Barber led the procession in a restored 1934, 12-cylinder Auburn.