NORTH LITTLE ROCK — With the peal of a ceremonial brass bell ringing in the air, the cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock heralded the end of an era, and the Broadway Bridge spanning the Arkansas River between the two cities was closed to traffic for good on Wednesday morning.


By Wednesday afternoon, construction crews with Massman Construction Company of Kansas City, Mo. were busily removing asphalt from the bridge deck, preparing the structure for demolition sometime in October.


With six months to complete the project of tearing down the old bridge and replacing it with a new bridge, a sense of urgency was evident as officials began shooing event participants and spectators from the bridge at the conclusion of the closing invocation.


Scott Bennett, director of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, opened the ceremony by outlining the scope of the project, and noted the current bridge, which opened Dec. 25, 1922, was built at a cost of $971,000.. It is being replaced at a cost of $98.4 million.


“Almost a hundred years later and at a hundred times the cost, the Arkansas Highway Commission will be the last to drive over this bridge,” said Bennett, who noted the current bridge was dedicated to Arkansans who fought and died in World War I.


Bennett, who oversaw the development plan that led to the decision to replace the bridge, said he was asked three questions when the idea was first proposed.


“Number one was, ‘Are you crazy?’ Number two was, ‘Do you really want to replace the Broadway Bridge?’ Number three was, ‘Do you have any idea how difficult this is going to be?’ My answer to all three questions was ‘Yes,’” said Bennett, with a laugh.


Bennett said he believes the new bridge, once it is operational, will prove to be worth the inconvenience of the construction phase.


“In the end, it’s going to be a new bridge that will be a showcase, not just for Little Rock and North Little Rock, but for the state of Arkansas. But, to put it simply, it’s time,” he said.


North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith outlined the positive points of the new bridge, even as he acknowledged the inevitable headaches the construction will create as approximately 25,000 cars that traveled the bridge daily will be forced to find alternate routes.


“We’re going to have a new bridge that will include a pedestrian and bike lane that will offer more opportunities to bring our communities together,” said Smith. “Until that day, we’re going to have the worst traffic event we’ve ever had in downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock. My No. 1 recommendation is to give yourself more time. In Joe Smith’s words of wisdom, be smart in your planning and patient in your driving.”


At the conclusion of the ceremony, a VFW/American Legion honor guard threw from the bridge to the water a wreath dedicated to Arkansans who have died in military service.