The Arkansas River is one of the Mississippi's largest tributaries. It flows 1,450 miles from the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, through the Royal Gorge, on through Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas to its confluence with the Mississippi River. Four hundred and forty-five miles long with 17 locks and dams, the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (MCKARNS) is a reliable, year-round waterway into the Southwest. Essentially a series of navigation pools connected by locks, the waterway enables vessels to overcome a 420-foot difference in elevation from the Mississippi River to the head of navigation at Catoosa, Oklahoma. The waterway has five major publicly developed ports and numerous privately developed facilities.
Originally intended to be called Murray Bridge, the Big Dam Bridge in Arkansas spans the Arkansas River and Murray Lock and Dam between Little Rock and North Little Rock and is open only to pedestrian and bicycle traffic. At 4,226 feet (1288 m) in length it is the longest pedestrian/bicycle bridge in North America that has never been used by trains or motor vehicles. It rises to 90 feet (27 m) over the Arkansas River and 30 feet (9.1 m) over the dam. The span over the river is 3,463 feet (1055 m), with the ramps on either side of the river accounting for the rest of the length. The southern end of the bridge is near Little Rock's Murray Park, while the northern end is at Cook's Landing Park in North Little Rock.The nickname was given by Pulaski County Judge F.G. “Buddy” Villines, who was concerned about the financing needed and was quoted to say, "We're going to build that dam bridge." (He insisted he was referring to its location on a dam, and was not using the mild expletive.) The construction cost was $12.8 million.
The opening ceremony was held on Saturday, September 30, 2006. Local politicians boasted that the bridge will boost the local economy and contribute to the health of the population. The bridge and adjacent parks are used for several races including the Big Dam Bridge 100 cycling tour, the BDB Twilight 5k race, and the BDB Duathlon.
The Federal Highway Administration gave one of its first Exemplary Human Environment Initiative awards to the bridge, and Illuminating Engineer Society gave its Award of Merit at the international level to the bridge's LED lighting design.
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