Two early travel achievements — Jefferson County’s Dollarway Road and the original Highway 79 free bridge over the Arkansas River at Rob Roy, near Pine Bluff — are nearing 100th anniversaries.
Dollarway has a storied past as Arkansas’ first concrete-paved road. When completed in October 1914, the 23-mile stretch — from Pine Bluff to the Jefferson County line north of Redfield — was the nation’s longest concrete roadway. Its construction, which consumed 13 months, also marked the first use of reinforced concrete for bridge construction in the state, according to an Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture account by Claudette Stager.
Four reinforced bridges were included in the Dollarway Road project.
The nine-foot wide road’s name was derived from its initial projected construction cost of a dollar per linear foot. However, the final cost was closer to $1.36.
Property owners along the route shared in the cost of construction, Stager noted, although some were initially opposed to the idea and indicated they would take legal action to halt the project. Differences were worked out, however, to mutual satisfaction.
Before Dollarway Road, packed stone paving known as “macadam” was employed on Arkansas roadways. Macadam went by the wayside when concrete wound up being both resilient and cheaper.
Segments of the original Dollarway Road are still visible in White Hall and Redfield, and concrete pieces from the initial construction that broke away over time were used in still-visible walks, stairs and edgings around houses and other buildings along its trail.
The county started building the free bridge in 1914, and when it was completed for use in 1915, it united the county for the first time.
The 1,520-foot-long bridge was rehabilitated in 1954. The bridge was 25 feet wide and had three traffic lanes, two one-way paths and a middle lane designed for use only to allow passage for farm equipment and oversize loads.
The current bridge was put into use in 1972, when the first structure was dropped almost instantly with strategically placed dynamite charges at 9 a.m. Wednesday, July 12, 1972, the late James W. Leslie wrote in his 1981 book “Pine Bluff and Jefferson County: A Pictorial History.”
George T. Anderson Sr. and James E. Jones Jr., co-publishers of the now-defunct Pine Bluff News weekly paper, reported that the blast shook buildings in downtown Pine Bluff.