TEXARKANA – Roughly two-and-a-half years after being washed out and rendered unusable, the Highway 71 Index Bridge Ramp in Miller County has reopened, ready to help boaters and anglers get to the excellent fishing the Red River has to offer.
The ramp originally closed because of extensive damage caused by the extreme flood of 2015. Because of its location along the river, the nearest alternative access to the Red River for boaters was 40 river miles downstream.
“It was the second biggest flood in recent history,” said Eric Brinkman, fisheries supervisor for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission in Hope. “It started in May and the high water lasted all the way until July. It wiped out the access.”
The flood not only damaged the ramp, but the entire access.
“There was a huge wash in the access road as big as a house,” Brinkman said. “All of the road from the bridge to the parking lot was gone as well.”
A portion of the ramp itself was visible, leading some to think that the ramp may be salvageable, but a very large scour from the current of the flood created an extremely hazardous situation.
“What you could see above the water looked fine on that part of the ramp,” Brinkman said. “But the concrete had a huge washout at the end and was undercut. If someone tried to launch a boat there at certain water levels, they may have dropped their trailer off in the river, or worse.”
The flood was declared a natural disaster, and funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency were allocated to rebuild the access. However, because the high water lasted until late July and the flood was so extensive, FEMA officials were not able to assess the damage and list it until well into fall of that year.
“We were inspecting damages as soon as we could, but that was four to five months after the flooding before we could even get out there with people from FEMA,” Brinkman said.
Once approved, the project still had to go through the AGFC’s process to ensure tax funds are being spent wisely. Bidding out the job, site inspections, evaluation of bids and appropriation of money all are involved before the first shovel of dirt can be moved.
“Even under the best of circumstances that can be a year-long process,” Brinkman said.
Once the project and contractors were approved, the only thing left to do was wait on the river. When adding ramps to reservoirs that can be manipulated, the water can be lowered to allow for the work, but working on rivers is much less controllable.
“You can’t pour concrete underwater; you have to wait until the river is low to do the work,” Brinkman said. “You try to get this work done during summer so the soil is dry and concrete and asphalt will set and not wash out during the first high water event.”
Workers caught a break during last year’s unusually dry fall, and were able to pour the new ramp in November 2017. The access ramp is wide enough for two boats to launch side-by-side and the parking area has 11 spaces for tow vehicles and trailers on asphalt and additional parking in a cleared dirt area.
“In addition to rebuilding the access road, parking area and ramp, we were able to angle the ramp a bit more downstream and slope the banks next to the ramp,” Brinkman said. “This should lessen the amount of silt that settles on the ramp during high flow and make it a little easier to load a boat on a trailer, as you won’t be fighting as much of a crosscurrent.”
Brinkman says he appreciates the patience many anglers showed during the process.
“Two and a half years may seem like a long time, but considering the amount of delays because of floods, proper procedures for federal funding and fluctuating river levels, this project actually was completed as soon as possible.”