StudioMain, the organization of architects and engineers that focuses on better urban design, has joined what is becoming an increasingly large and loud chorus of voices objecting to the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department’s plan to widen 6.7 miles of Interstate 30 from 6 to 10 lanes. State Rep. Warwick Sabin issued a statement earlier this week expressing his fears of a deleterious effect on the River Market district; last week, it was members of a Metroplan planning council raising questions — do we really need 10 lanes? — about the plan. Before that, Rock Region Metro drew attention to the fact that the plan as it now stands would end River Rail traffic at the interstate, cutting off trolley service to the Clinton Presidential Center and Heifer International.

There’s a public hearing at 4 p.m. today at Friendly Chapel Church of the Nazarene at 116 S. Pine St. in North Little Rock on the plan as it stands now. 

StudioMain’s wrote an 11-page
 to AHTD Director Scott Bennett that outlines a number of concerns:
They include the wider interstate’s effect on other roads, its further division of the east side of Little Rock with downtown, and a lack of coordination with other governmental and non-governmental agencies about issues including cost. It suggested fixes and asks that the agency “revisit the stated goals for the I-30 corridor.” 

RE the Regional Planning Advisory Council’s objections mentioned above: A video on the Connecting Arkansas Program (see still above) shows what traffic on I-30 could look like in 2041, which is the date the highway department has based its models on. It shows swiftly moving cars, lots of space between them, on that date. Between now and then, one member of the council asked, will the big wide interstate be empty?


UPDATE: More than 100 people showed up tonight for the public meeting on what the Highway Department calls the 30 Crossing project, and if there were people who were wildly happy about the new “Cantrell Interchange” onto 2nd and 3rd streets in downtown Little Rock, I didn’t meet them. 

The AHTD was universally praised, however, for the proposal at the northern terminus of I-30, where it comes from U.S. Highway 67-167. No longer will southbound traffic on 67 have to get in the left lane to go right, to Little Rock, and no longer will Little Rock bound traffic have to cross a couple of lanes of westbound traffic on I-40 to get to Little Rock. I-30 will be a right hand turn and a smooth shot into downtown North Little Rock and points south. 

Looking at the plans, it seemed to some folks there that for every few fixes — such as the 67-30 Cuisinart and longer, safer ramps — a new problem was created. For example, the exit to Curtis Sykes street has been made safer by creating an exit further south and a longer ramp. Neighborhood residents and businesses liked that. But: The ramp that would have taken people from Sykes to the interstate has been removed; to get to Conway, you’ll know have to drive through North Little Rock or go east on an access road that parallels I-30 and turn around.

Also, a scenario meant to make the Markham-Clinton-La Harpe-Cumberland intersection safer (the AHTD says the city has asked for that) would close Cumberland and its entrance to LaHarpe (Cantrell) and divert sending truck (and other Cantrell-bound) traffic down a three-lane Second Street. (Then State or Chester to LaHarpe). Trucks coming off Cantrell onto Chester would get to I-30 on an “improved” Fourth Street.

Overarching concerns about the project in its entirety were:

— that by expanding the Interstate to a zippy 10-lane thruway, development downtown will suffer.


— that the flow from west to east at Third and Fourth will be lost: at Third because it will be a four-way intersection with a stoplight; on Fourth because it will end on the west side of I-30.

— that cutting off the River Rail at I-30 and ripping up the lines to the Clinton Center and Heifer (which would require the AHTD to reimburse the federal government for its expense building the tracks) would not only hurt future development of the trolley to points east, but would mean Little Rock would never again win federal dollars to build trolley transportation.

— that the plan does nothing to encourage public transit or carpooling (though Jerry Holder of Garver Engineers, who directs the CAP project, says buses will be able to use the shoulder to move past slow traffic).

— that the interstate, with its collector-distributor lanes for local traffic, will be difficult to navigate. (“Are you going to make this better than that mess out on 630 and 430?” one man asked a highway employee.) 

— that it’s normal to have rush hour traffic and 10 lanes is overbuilding.

Brad Walker, a Little Rock lawyer, suggested that the whole interstate system in NLR-LR be redesigned as a Chenal-type boulevard, with roads at grade and stop signs and folks who want to go avoid Little Rock directed to I-440. He seemed perfectly serious, and the more he talked about it, the better it sounded. To, not through, he said; that’s the way to grow Little Rock. Why spend $500 million to move people past downtown as quickly as possible?

Holder has an answer for that: He says Dallas suffered when it reduced thruway traffic into town and is now better off with the thruways revived.