Where is George Fisher when we need him? The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department is about to embark on a monumental keep-busy project that would make the Corps of Engineers green with envy. We need his cartoon genius again.
I refer to the $4 billion plan (counting related work the freeway widening will require) known as 30 Crossing. It is intended to widen the concrete gash through the heart of Little Rock that is Interstate 30 to 10 lanes, a project conceived only to move greater amounts of traffic faster through Little Rock. Go back and read Leslie Newell Peacock’s report on a hearing on the plans last night. At last, opposition is rising. It may be too late to stop it, but I hope it’s not too late to mend it. The engineers apparently are getting churlish that somebody might slow down their gravy train.
The freeway is adequate most of the time for traffic now. Yes, there are rush hour jams. Yes some interchange and exit designs aren’t so hot. But I drove to the airport during rush hour yesterday at the speed limit. But the highway engineers want to be busy for years spending billions helping people from Texarkana to Memphis or from Pine Bluff to Cabot through the heart of the city. (Or to arrive and flee the city more quickly for suburbs, always a high priority in Arkansas.)
My favorite comments last night came from Brad Walker. He offered the not-at-all crazy idea to tear up the interstate and replace it with a good boulevard like Chenal Parkway. The long-distance traffic can skirt the city on ring freeways.
Been to Rome, London, Paris, Vancouver or San Francisco, to name some of the most beautiful cities in the world? They share an absence of freeways in their cores. They have little of the mountainous concrete structures that uglify every place they pass; divide neighborhoods and impede calm foot, bike, mass transit and private vehicle traffic. I’ve written before about Vancouver — no freeways, broad boulevards, multiple neighborhood nodes, great diversity, high housing prices. People LOVE to live there. San Francisco? Citizens there rose up to stop a bayfront freeway project that would have ruined what is now a burgeoning and beautiful stretch of the city connected by chugging vintage streetcars. In Little Rock, we want to pour concrete high and wide. You think that attracts the kind of young thinkers who have made San Francisco ground zero of the tech explosion? I don’t.
This freeway project imperils, among others, the reawakening of Hanger Hill, an ideal infill neighborhood on the east side of the freeway, where three new $200,000 homes overlook a road that could be pushed up to their front porch. It impedes traffic to the Clinton Library, Heifer, the awakening warehouse district with its brewery, distillery and, soon, a new eStem school campus. This plan will absolutely destroy Second Street from I-30 to State Street, by making it a state highway connector to LaHarpe/Cantrell Road and end the funnel along Cumberland to LaHarpe. If tradition holds, it will work as well as the Highway Department’s fine use of Broadway for a similar purpose.
Suddenly, the community is beginning to realize the downside this project holds for the new downtown that has developed between the Clinton Library and Main Street. All to move traffic faster. (As usual, Little Rock’s so-called municipal leadership is virtually silent about the impending disaster.)
It’s time for a campaign. Where’s a modern-day Adolphine Terry or Irene Samuel when we truly need an Emergency Committee to put the brakes on?
You pick an acronym. But get organized. It is not in the interest of Little Rock to move people faster through or out of town. Visit San Francisco or Vancouver and tell me otherwise. Other cities have had freeway revolts. Why not Little Rock?
STOP. Stop This Outrageous Project. STUFF. Stop This Urban Freeway Fiasco.
PS — The website that talks about this project yesterday had a video of this cluster. It’s not up today.
PPS — Downscaling or eliminating this project could free money for something else, right?