City Director Kathy Webb reminds by Twitter that Norm Marshall, a transportation planner, will provide a second installment of his look at the proposed widening of Interstate 30 downtown to 10 lanes (12 lanes not counting shoulders at the Arkansas River bridge according to the state’s own drawings) at 7 p.m. tonight at First United Methodist Church.
As Webb said, the project will “impact our city for decades.”
Marshall was hired by a coalition of groups to provide a counterpoint to the Arkansas Highway Department’s to-date inadequate assessment of the likelihood that the widening project will further cleave reawakening downtown neighborhoods and create additional congestion, particularly on account of new demand on roads that feed into the downtown corridor but for which there are no immediate expansion plans.
The Highway Department has made some alterations in its original proposal and some politicians and the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce have accepted them, primarily because of the understanding that the Highway Department is determined to pursue its original plan as much as possible and fighting with the Highway Department is generally futile. The coalition that has established the Improve 30 Crossing effort thinks otherwise. The state plan is under scrutiny for adherence to adequate review of environmental impacts and a potential lawsuit if it is not adequate. Says Improve 30 Crossing:
Under this plan, Arkansas taxpayers would fund the third widest bridge in America, attracting trucks and other traffic away from other river crossings and concentrating them downtown, making morning and evening commute traffic worse, not better. The twelve-lane bridge and freeway would also damage a downtown that has struggled to recover from decades of blight and eliminate the opportunity for significant new downtown development.
The second phase of the report will be released on May 17th. It projects the impact of AHTD’s 12-lane proposal on downtown Little Rock at rush hour. While downtown traffic impacts are an obvious concern for commuters and residents alike, AHTD did not look at downtown traffic impacts beyond the borders of its proposed project, and the City of Little Rock has so far failed to investigate these impacts despite spending $75,000 to review the project. Mr. Marshall shows that new on-ramps and off-ramps and the increased flow across the 12-lane bridge would create much worse rush-hour traffic jams on Broadway and other downtown streets.
The second report also begins to examine better-functioning alternatives to the 12-lane bridge. Mr. Marshall shows that converting I-30 to a wide boulevard through downtown and constructing a new river-crossing at Chester St. would be a better way to manage traffic congestion than concentrating regional traffic on I-30 in the tight downtown corridor. One side-effect of this alternative would be to open up significant land for economic development downtown, allowing vibrant development of the city. Mr. Marshall reviews the success of projects in other states that have taken a similar approach.
Overall, the work of the Arkansas Public Policy Panel and Smart Mobility suggest that the City of Little Rock and the State of Arkansas can avoid potential cost overruns for a $600+ million, dysfunctional project by taking time to do a better analysis (and in some cases the first analysis) of the basic impacts of the project. When over $600 million and the future of the City is at stake, it is not too much to ask to take a second look and use the best tools available. The two attached reports are a first step in that direction.
PS: Kathy Wells of the Coalition of Little Rock Neighborhoods reports on comments from Mayor Mark Stodola. They city-hired Nelson Nygaard will present its analysis of the I-30 expansion at 5 p.m. Monday. Since the mayor has pronounced the Freeway Department’s latest plan good, I’d expect his $75,000 consultant to say the same. The strong mayor says the firm will, among others, facilitate a work session between the state, Metroplan and city officials “to frame City’s expectations of the I-30 process going forward.”