I was happy to see John Brummett’s column in the Democrat-Gazette this morning with support for state Rep. Warwick Sabin’s idea — outlined in the Times recently — that the state Highway and Transportation Department rethink its plan to widen the swath of concrete that I-30 plows through the heart of the city. It will further destabilize neighboring territory and prevent impediments to redevelopment on the east side of Little Rock.
It won’t be easy to stop this speeding semi-truck of tax spending.
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In some Twitter exchanges last night, Highway Director Scott Bennett indicated the unhappiness with which the road-building authority is reacting to rising objections to its plan. He did not like being questioned about putting a project engineer as the lead “facilitator” of discussions on the project (maybe he should use Warwick Sabin he snarked.) I can understand the rancor. Public hearings have been marked recently by increasing unhappiness. He particularly did not like my view that it makes little sense for Little Rock to pay for and be punished by yet another scheme to move people to and from suburbs like Cabot more quickly.
And there you have it. There Bennett lays bare the attitude toward Little Rock that makes the powers that be so receptive to spending whatever it takes to get people quickly to Sheridan, Lonoke, Bryant, Cabot and Conway, with little concern about the city it tramples. I-630’s damage to the city is well-known. I-30 has been just as bad and now the highway department wants to make it worse. Its plan holds tremendous peril for easy communication of downtown with the burgeoning east side — cultural institutions, breweries, new homes, a new mixed-use development anchored by a major architectural firm.
I hope Bennett is neither so naive nor clueless to believe making a six-lane to Conway or Benton or building new interchanges and all the rest don’t encourage suburban growth. He might also visit California to see how well that works out. Is it really state policy to move traffic through Little Rock as fast as possible, with no thought to the cost, not just in enormous dollars but to community? You can’t build enough freeways to end congestion. Maybe it is time to think of different ways of doing things.
Here’s what’s needed.
* LEADERSHIP: Mayor Stodola belatedly turned up with some mildly concerned words late last week. He should have been in this fray months ago, with loud and vigorous advocacy and formation of a local committee to make sure we aren’t trampled by the manifest destiny of the road builders. Somebody should get on the phone to the city’s highway commissioners and ask them, well, WTF?
* INFORMATION: Who’s in charge? Who makes the decision? Is it Bennett, with his anti-Little Rock bias? Is it the Highway Commission? Or, worse, is this a done deal, like the Broadway Bridge, where we said “thank you sir, may I have another” after the cramdown of another bad highway department idea.
* LAWSUIT: Is there a legal way to slow this destruction down, as Acorn did with the Mills Freeway? Has there been a truly sufficient environmental assessment?
* TRAFFIC: Bennett continues to insist this project is all about congestion and crashes. Fine. Replace the Arkansas River bridge. Tinker with some exits. But move through-traffic to other freeways. Discourage use of downtown as a major interstate and commuter route. Other great cities do this. It can be done here, if only highway builders didn’t have tunnel vision and could think creatively for once. Less congestion. Fewer crashes.
Metroplan says this I-30 monstrosity will eventually cost $4 billion because of all the other transportation fixes it will require. It will harm public transit. It will destroy downtown traffic patterns, with a new path to Cantrell Road. (The good news is that the Stephens empire has expressed vehement objection to that Second Street connector, so at least that part probably won’t get done. Money does ever talk.)
Little Rock has always been an enemy to the state political establishment, now more than ever with Republican control. This deal may be done and downtown Little Rock may already be a cooked goose. But I know that quiet and careful and politic behind-the-scenes to plead with those already convinced is fruitless. There message to date is that insuring a cross-country motorist can blast through LR at 65 MPH is more important than the capital city’s well-being.
It’s time to raise a ruckus. Stop This Outrageous Project.
Bennett is feeling a little heat, as you can see from this tweet. Time to turn it up.
Yes. Really. Who in Little Rock and North Little Rock is in favor of this project?
PS — A reader reminds that Bennett lives in Bryant. And likes to drive fast, even in construction zones.