Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola sent a letter to the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department on Oct. 27 outlining his top five concerns with the proposed plan to modify Interstate 30.
Under the planned, referred to as 30 Crossing, AHTD has proposed — though not finalized — plans affecting I-30 in Little Rock and North Little Rock. It involves the 6.7-mile stretch between I-40 and I-530, including the Arkansas River Bridge and between JFK Boulevard and U.S. Highway 67 on I-40.
“I would like to request that the process be paused or suspended so that these issues can be specifically…considered,” Stodola wrote. “Downtown Little Rock and its revitalization is of major importance to hundreds of businesses and individuals who enjoy our downtown revitalization which has occurred over the last 20 years.”
Here are six things to know about the project, its major players and the impact of public comment:
1. The AHTD Plan
At a meeting of the Little Rock Board of Directors on Nov. 3, AHTD director Scott Bennett and Jerry Holder, director of transportation at Garver, held a presentation on the I-30 project for the public.
Holder said the I-30 corridor in question has many problems — congestion, safety, deficiencies, navigational issues and structural issues — and the proposal will improve connectivity, enhance reliability and accommodate future traffic.
The options for improving I-30 — which is now six lanes — being considered include widening the corridor to eight lanes or widening the corridor to 10 lanes, four of which would be collector/distributor lanes.
Bennett said at the meeting that AHTD is still studying the options.
“It’s a tough problem,” he said. “We’re not going to cram it down anyone’s throat.”
Danny Straessle, AHTD spokesman, told AMP via email that the department plans to have a finalized plan for I-30 completed and sent to Metroplan by the first part of 2016. For I-30 improvements to become a reality, Metroplan, central Arkansas’ federally designated Metropolitan Planning Organization, must adopt the proposal into its long-range transportation plan.
“The project is not a done deal,” Straessle said. “We are still in the process of reviewing alternatives where conflicts might still exist. The department is constantly planning for the future, and we typically look at the 20-year planning horizon in doing so. Even if 30 Crossing is not realized, our projections show traffic will increase anyway. So it’s routine for us to constantly examine purpose and need for additional projects.”
2. Mayor Stodola’s 5 Points of Concern
In his letter to AHTD, the five areas of concern that Stodola addressed include:
- The eight-lane alternative should be considered, instead of the 10-lane proposal.
- The closing of Third and Fourth streets to east-west access would decrease connectivity.
- Maintaining trolley tracks on the east side of I-30 is important to long-term support of the Clinton Presidential Center and Heifer Village, as well as to the proposed developments on Sixth Street and as a link to the River Market to the east side of the interstate.
- The Second Street interchange should be re-examined to deal with congestion on Markham Street, LaHarpe and Clinton Avenue.
- An interchange at Fourth Street and Sixth Street should be considered, or access should be moved into downtown Little Rock off of I-630.
“The massing that 10 lanes creates is a major negative that many people have spoken out about and are concerned with,” he wrote.
Stodola told AMP that he prefers the eight-lane option because the 10-lane (with collector/distributor lanes allowing for through traffic) would substantially widen the I-30 bridge and make the underpass more difficult to address. Plus, he said AHTD has said 80 percent of traffic on the interstate is actually traveling to downtown, so devoting so many lanes to through traffic doesn’t make sense.
An interchange at Fourth and Sixth streets should be seriously considered, Stodola said.
“[AHTD tells] me the geometry doesn’t work, but I don’t know what that means,” he said. “I challenge them to say why it won’t work.”
3. The Cost
The estimated cost for the I-30 project would be around $600 million, Bennett said, with $425 million coming from a 2011 voter-approved sales tax devoted to highways, $90 million from the bridge program fund (specifically for the I-30 bridge), regular federal and state funds, and the rest would be financed.
Stodola said the city would be responsible for paying for infrastructure, such as lighting and landscaping. He said he has already spoken to Little Rock city staff about “getting an architect or urban planner on board” to examine what’s been done in similar projects around the country.
4. Metroplan’s Analysis
At a Regional Planning Advisory Council meeting on Nov. 4, Metroplan executive director Jim McKenzie and Casey Covington, Metroplan transit study director, presented their systems analysis of 30 Crossing.
Metroplan is responsible for the entire area’s transportation network. McKenzie said the analysis shows that widening I-30 would lead to congestion elsewhere and require more improvements later on, and he’s unsure where the money for those projects would come from.
“We’re concerned and expressed that to [AHTD] and the consultants,” McKenzie said. “I-30 is like a regulator valve. A lot of freeways dump into it and feed out of it. Cleaning out the central corridor moves congestion down the road.”
The current long-range transportation plan, adopted in December 2014, caps local highways at six lanes. McKenzie said the policy states that once a freeway network is built and reaches its cap, the next step is to use resources to focus on regional arterial networks and transit systems. Then, widening highways could be revisited.
For the AHTD plan to come to fruition, the department would have to formally request an amendment to the six-lane cap and offer an alternative. Metroplan’s 28-member board, which includes local mayors and county judges, would have to approve the plan.
5. Community Opposition
Many in the community have expressed opposition to 30 Crossing. About 250 people attended the Nov. 3 Little Rock City Board meeting, and of the 25 or so people who commented during the meeting, only two or three were in favor of the plan.
One of those who spoke in opposition was Kathy Wells, president of the Coalition of Greater Little Rock Neighborhoods. She said widening I-30 would create a “domino effect” for other problems.
“It’s really bad public policy,” she told AMP. “We do not agree that it is needed. This plan is damaging and will lead to further damage.”
Wells said the proposal would create more traffic, damage existing neighborhoods and lead to debt.
“We’re spending well beyond our means,” she said. “They want a Ferrari but only have a budget for a four-door Chevy sedan.”
Lack of understanding of the project is what is leading to some of the opposition, many of those involved say. Stodola has said he would like to see a 3-D model of the plan. McKenzie said models would help the public better visualize the impact of the plan.
“The devil is always in the details, and we’re getting down to the details,” McKenzie said.
Straessle said AHTD is working on creating more visuals of the I-30 project, but he said he’s unsure when they will be finished.
Many other central Arkansas neighborhood associations have also expressed their opposition to the plan.
6. Does Public Comment Matter?
All parties involved with 30 Crossing encourage the public to voice their opinions of the project via attending public meetings, completing a public comment form or contacting city leaders.
AHTD has extended its public comment period to Dec. 6. Straessle said the extension is due to the level of interest in the project.
“It’s important to note that public comment is not a voting process,” he said. “Public comment is an integral part of project development because it provides feedback to the department regarding how a proposed project may or may not impact an individual, an organization or a community.”
AHTD will hold a town hall meeting on Nov. 16 at 6 p.m. the Clinton Presidential Center Great Hall.
Citizens are encouraged to attend city board meetings and voice their concerns about any issue, said city of Little Rock communications and marketing manager Jennifer Godwin. She said city directors factor in citizen communication, whether oral or written, into decision-making processes, but there is no specific formula.