Another long and well attended (despite the downpour) public meeting on Interstate 30 tonight at the Clinton Center. The only bit of news: The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department says it will collaborate with studioMAIN, the architect/engineer group that pushes for progressive development, to improve I-30’s intersection with downtown. We’ll have to follow up on what that means tomorrow.
After the highway department’s presentation on why it will build a 10-lane corridor to replace 6-lane I-30 for short of 7 miles as it crosses the Arkansas River, and why you can’t compare Little Rock to Portland or Seattle, 28 speakers took to the microphone to explain why — for the most part — they don’t like the plan. (There were a few speakers who commended the AHTD for its work on the 30 Crossing plan, and for a time there was an applause competition from the audience, but foes outnumbered pros by a wide margin.)
Among those speaking for the 10-lane was Sen. Linda Chesterfield, who represents Southwest Little Rock as well as other areas of Pulaski County. She said “it is hell” to get into Little Rock from Southwest — it took her 15 minutes recently — and she hoped people would remember her constituents in “the hinterlands” who have to put up with traffic on I-30 to get into town.
Therein lies a part of the disconnect between the opposing sides of the debate. If you think you should not have to drive 15 minutes to get from Southwest Little Rock to downtown Little Rock you are never going to understand objections to a bigger interstate, one that will create a 391-foot wide tunnel on Clinton Avenue separating east from west.
CORRECTION: Many persons commenting here report that I misheard Sen. Chesterfield, and that she actually said it took her 50 minutes, rather than 15.
A few of the points raised by the speakers:
A bicycle advocate named Steve Clark — a visitor to Little Rock, no connection to the former attorney general — quoted some statistics that said that for every bicyclist in Little Rock, there are 721 drivers, compared to 126 nationally. While that might argue against plans that enhance bike travel, Clark made the point that “you get what you design for.”
Architect Tom Fennell noted that no part of the 30 Crossing plan attempts to reduce demand, and that increased traffic — which the highway department concedes happens when you improve roads — will cause damage to the environment that public health can’t afford.
Architect Adam Day explained his idea to create an exit from I-440 to Bond Street as an alternative route into town that would decrease traffic on I-30 and asked why highway engineers had not consulted urban planners until this point. He argued for a bridge to connect Pike Avenue in North Little Rock with Chester Street in Little Rock, which would also serve as a bypass. Connecting Arkansas Program manager Jerry Holder responded rather disingenuously that maintaining Chester Street as a bypass would “fall on the locals” rather than the state. I say disingenuous because the part of the highway department’s initial design for handling traffic off Second Street was to make Chester Street a one-way state highway south (along with Second and Fourth streets, a plan, Holder acknowledged, AHTD “didn’t get a pat on the back” for.)
One of the persons to speak out against the 10-lane plan was from Bryant. She said the plan — which push traffic choke points to I-630 and the other major roads in Pulaski County — would make her commute worse. She described her 35-minute commute along 430 from Bryant to Burns Park in North Little Rock as “not onerous.”
Kathy Wells, speaking for the Coalition of Downtown Neighborhoods, said the Coalition would like the agency to consider a “pedestrian scramble” at the intersection of Cumberland, Clinton, Markham and LaHarpe, in which traffic from all directions would stop for pedestrians. As several other speakers suggested, the coalition also asked the agency to rework its design to adhere to Imagine Central Arkansas, the long-range plan drawn up by Metroplan.
Carol Young, speaking for the League of Women Voters, said the league was pleased the agency had listened to complaints about cutting off the River Rail tracks under I-30 and decided to work around them. But, she said, it “remains to be seen” whether the agency, while being open to hearing from the public, would be open to real change.