The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department’s Connecting Arkansas Program manager Jerry Holder, who is director of Garver Engineers, reviewed the work done so far on the highway department’s $500 million plan to widen Interstate 30 to 10 lanes for Metroplan’s Regional Planning Advisory Council today, and this is what the council heard from Metroplan:

Their analysis shows that to prevent bottlenecks caused by the flow of cars through the expanded I-30 on other portions of interstates in Central Arkansas, those freeways will have to be widened to eight lanes, at a cost of $4 billion

Casey Covington of Metroplan stood to relay that fact after Coreen Frasier, a member of the regional council, asked Holder, “Aren’t we just moving bottlenecks to other places” by widening six to seven miles of Interstate 30? “It doesn’t seem sensible to do a 10-lane smooth out” and ignore the effect increased traffic would have further down the road, she said. 

Holder said bottlenecks would be caused “maybe, if you only did [the I-30 widening].” But, he added, “we have 20 years to work with Jim [McKenzie of Metroplan]” to make such improvements as HOT (High Occupancy Toll) lanes to Conway (for example) and other improvements, he said. “Somewhere along the way, innovative improvements may have to happen.”

(He actually doesn’t have 20 years to work with McKenzie; the Metroplan executive director will retire next year.)

Council member Carolyn Shearman asked about the recent revelation that the new Cantrell-I-30 interchange would require the River Rail trolley to stop on the west side of the I-30, rather than continue, as it does today, to Heifer International and the Clinton Center. Holder acknowledged that the “single point urban interchange” plan would indeed cut off access to River Rail lines east of the interstate, and that Jarod Varner, director of the Rock Region Metro (formerly CATA), had asked the CAP project to consider an option that would reroute the rails east of 30.


Kathleen Lambert, noting that the AHTD “speed profiles” show traffic flowing unimpeded in 2041 on the 10-lane section, wondered if the interstate would be empty for many years after the scheduled 2020 completion date. An engineer with consultants CH2M said the I-30 bridge needed to be built to last 50 years, hence the build-out to 2041, and yes, there would be years when traffic was light.

She also asked if engineers had taken into account new technologies that might reduce vehicular traffic and the need for 10 lanes. Holder said she raised a good point about technology, and said it was possible that a lane could be dedicated for driverless cars — which is not the same thing as saying perhaps 10 lanes aren’t needed.

Patrick Stair of the Sierra Club asked if the AHTD couldn’t focus on improving arterials first, which could preclude the need for widening the interstate. Holder, perhaps misunderstanding Stair’s question, interpreted him to be saying that he wanted to keep people from stopping in Little Rock. He said that without a wider interstate, Little Rock would die. “A robust arterial is good, but you’ve got to get  the backbone in first,” he told Stair. 

Holder said that while the CAP’s Planning and Environmental Linkage process recommended the 10 lanes, “speed profiles” also would be run on an 8-lane option.