A Southern town has just renovated its theater, arts center and science center downtown; created an Uptown Entertainment District, and more revitalizing development is proposed. But its state highway department plans to widen the interstate that cuts through downtown from six to 10 lanes and rearrange access and exit points.
Sound familiar? It does, because what’s happening in Birmingham, Ala., is precisely what’s going on in Little Rock, with its new Robinson Center on the way, a proposal to use bonds to improve its arts center and history museum, and new downtown residential units springing up around a revitalized Main Street.
But there’s a difference:
In Birmingham, business leaders recognize a wider interstate poses a threat to the success of the revitalization of their downtown, and are asking the Alabama Department of Transportation to look at alternatives. Here’s what one former CEO of an international corporation says about the interstate as it exists today:
“It has proven to be dividing the city for years. It has limited quality of life and the ability to revitalize.”
Not Little Rock. Here, chamber of commerce types and their sympathetic city leaders say, bring it on! Widen Interstate 30 so it creates an even larger divide between the east and west parts of downtown, despite revitalization efforts that are creating new connections and reasons for people to come back to Main Street. Because, who cares what happens on the east side of I-30? Because, surely there will be lots of money to fix resulting traffic jams past the 30 Corridor by widening the entire interstate network, so the city is in the eye of a hurricane of cars zipping by the central city. Because highway departments build roads. You go to a surgeon, he’ll say you need surgery. Ask a highway guy what is good for transportation and he’ll say wider roads to accommodate more cars.