Former President Bill Clinton led a dedication ceremony Friday in Little Rock for a new $10.5 million pedestrian and cycling pathway over the Arkansas River, which was built inside an old railroad bridge. He was joined by his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, daughter Chelsea, and the mayors of Little Rock and North Little Rock.
"This bridge is important because first, it keeps the promise we made," Clinton told the crowd. "We came up with the money that turned out to be two and a half times what the original estimate was to complete this trail loop. It’s important. I’m proud of it."
It was originally hoped that work to renovate the bridge, which was built in 1899, would be completed in time for the dedication of the Clinton Presidential Center in 2004. But increasing costs led to it being repeatedly delayed.
Hundreds of cyclists, including Chuck Hitt of Little Rock, brought their bikes to Friday’s dedication to be among the first to cross it.
"We’ve been waiting on the opening of this bridge for a long time," Hitt said. "I think it’s a great thing for the community and I just love the way it’s going to open up more areas for bike riding."
The bridge will serve as the eastern end of the 14-mile river trail.
It was only open for walkers and cyclists a few hours Friday. It officially opens to the public on Sunday.
Clinton also described the bridge as a symbol of harmony and contrasted it with the divisions in politics today.
"All the possibilities are there, we just have to do the right things. And just like this bridge, we have to do them in a way that brings us together, not drives us apart. All that I learned from you," Clinton said.
Until work to renovate the bridge began, it been abandoned since the 1980 bankruptcy of the Rock Island Railroad.