The Little Rock Board of Directors tonight tabled for a month a resolution asking the highway department for more study on its plan to expand Interstate 30 to 10 lanes through downtown. There was clear opposition to the resolution, most notably from Vice Mayor Lance Hines, who carried the chamber of commerce talking point that the project was good for business.
Director Kathy Webb, who sponsored the resolution, said the city had continued to fail to ask the right questions. She said some visionary planning was needed, with input from highway engineers on how to achieve those visions. A failure to address the holistic question of what the city is going to be decades from now will overlook public school impact and the types of people attracted to the city, among others, she said.
“I don’t believe I’m doing my job if I don’t look at this broader vision,” Webb said. She emphasized opponents to the plans didn’t oppose a new bridge or safety improvements.
Director Ken Richardson also said the highway plan lacked involvement of urban planners, “as if adding lanes on a freeway would be a panacea.” He said it appeared to be a “vehicle-only” plan, without consideration of transit and other issues.
Vice Mayor Lance Hines continued his earlier resistance to the resolution. He emphasized the highway department talking point of many meetings over many months, as many as 80. But the plan only took shape in recent months. Specifics revealed recently set the objections on fire. He also said urban planners hadn’t come up with anything to improve the plan. He hasn’t been reading voluminous suggestions we’ve read and printed or studied dramatically different approaches in cities far more prosperous than Little Rock. He went point by by through the resolution, (you can read it on this item) denying any shortcoming in any aspect of the highway department plan. He particularly resisted Metroplan”s “artificial limit” on the number of lanes on regional freeways, now at six. Of course. Let’s be like California. Keep building freeways. Keeping filling them with traffic. Keep increasing congestion. It hasn’t worked anywhere else. Why shouldn’t Arkansas share the pain?
Hines called the limitation on freeway lanes a “regional chokehold.” He said, “You need that recruitment of people coming into Little Rock to spend their money.” Guess what. They spend millions in New York without a mile of true freeway on the island of Manhattan. You’d think his ONLY interest lies in shoppers and commuters from the region, not the people who live here.
Director Dean Kumpuris said the city needs all the information it can get. He said things had been taken off the table and that other matters were being studied. He backed Ken Richardson’s idea to hear from Metroplan. But he said it was too early to vote on a resolution “without all the facts.” He made the proposal to table for a month to get more information. His motion was approved on a voice vote in face of clear resistance to the resolution tonight, maybe ever. It was agreed that Metroplan Director Jim McKenzie will come in to talk about Metroplan’s view on freeway planning, at variance with what Hines would prefer.
Mayor Mark Stodola took note of strong feelings on the proposal. If he has a position, he didn’t stake it out tonight. Lance Hines did the driving of this train.
I said weeks ago and I still believe: The highway department’s mind is made up. The concrete pourers at the chamber of commerce support it because they don’t see beyond 1950 when it comes to building freeways. The highway department has done a good job lobbying key minority politicians, though some of their neighborhoods will be the most heavily affected, just as happened on the Mills Freeway. Any alterations to the plan already devised will be cosmetic and minor, no matter how good an idea studioMAIN or anybody else comes up with. The same “visionaries” who think buying some office buildings and hoping capital will come amounts to a tech park are ready to cram that real estate bubble down taxpayers’ throats with a chaser of concrete. Get out your salt.