Lollie Road closed in December as crews began work on the Tupelo Bayou bridge. Officials cautioned the community the road would be closed for five months. However, it reopened Friday ahead of schedule.

A ceremonial ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Friday morning atop the newly-paved and constructed bridge, and County Judge Jim Baker said the structure will greatly improve safety in the area.

The Tupelo Bayou bridge rests in the 860 block of Lollie Road, just two and a half miles west of the Conway Municipal Airport. The rail car bridge that was replaced was constructed in 2001 and was deemed unsafe by local officials.

Baker said he first planned to replace the bridge over the Tupelo Bayou in 2016. But with bids exceeding $2 million, he put improvement plans for the area on hold. After changing the scope of the project, contractors and construction crews completed improvements one month ahead of schedule and at just over $565,000.

"I'm so proud of this bridge," Baker said during Friday's ceremony. "This is a good day for us in Faulkner County."

Unlike the bridge it replaced, the new structure has two lanes and is 133 feet long and 28 feet wide.

"Today, this bridge will become part of our history," Baker said. "[It's] replacing the old, one-lane bridge. It will have a good economic impact in this area. Primarily, the reason [for this project] was safety."

During the ceremony, Deacon Jerry Joe Harrison with the St. Joseph Catholic Church blessed the bridge, which was dedicated to the Schaefer family.

Harrison said if anyone deserved the dedication, it was the Schaefer family.

"I've known Bob and Pat [Schaefer] a long time. This is a well-deserved honor for their family," he said.

Sen. Jason Rapert said Faulkner County officials work hard to make sure the county's infrastructure is safe and maintained.

"I want to compliment Judge Baker; I want to compliment the quorum court; I want to compliment the community for this bridge and what it means for this community," he said. "[Judge Baker has] worked very hard with not only our congressmen but state legislators from all over central Arkansas on the possibility of a new road project that will be coming through this area at some time. It’s a replacement for a northern corridor all the way from Camp Robinson. You’re standing in what is proposed as a new route for that new road."

Garver engineers who worked on the project were onside along with Mehaffey Construction Co., Inc. and H.W. Tucker Company, Inc. crews, who constructed the bridge. All involved said it was a pleasure working in the area.

County Road Foreman Mark Ledbetter said the new bridge will greatly impact the safety of motorists passing through the area, especially the farming community that lives in the area.

Along with safety improvements, Conway Mayor Bart Castleberry said the new structure will improve the community in other aspects.

"I’ve already heard from a lot of folks in Conway that are really, really happy about this. The bicycle people love it because now they can ride all the way from Conway to Mayflower," he said. "Our pilots are really happy about it. It’s a tremendous asset for the city of Conway."