Scott Bennett, director of the state Department of Transportation, has threatened to stop planned highway projects in Central Arkansas unless Metroplan, the regional planning agency, approves changes in its long-range transportation plans to accommodate the 30 Crossing project to widen I-30 through downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock.

Tab Townsell, director of Metroplan, has taken exception to Bennett’s interpretation that immediate action is necessary. He’s asking the Metroplan board if it wants to fold to the highway department or wait for an environmental review before signing off on changes in its transportation plan to accommodate the state’s vision for the I-30 widening project, a $600 million widening and bridge replacement along six miles in the heart of the city.

Bennett contends Metroplan must resolve a discrepancy between terms “capacity improvements” and “operational improvements” in reference to 30 Crossing in Metroplan’s Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) and its Long-Range Metropolitan Transportation Plan (Plan).  Otherwise, other projects can’t go forward, he said. Townsell wrote in response that the difference in language isn’t significant and a consistent description isn’t necessary until the 30 Crossing project has passed federal environmental review.

More to come, but Bennett’s threat is circulating rapidly through the group of people who are following the 30 Crossing project. Bennett’s letter went to Mayor Mark Stodola, Noth Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith and County Judge Barry Hyde. Whether they can unilaterally force changes in Metroplan guidance is one question raised by a critic of the project who’s on the mailing list of all communications related to 30 Crossing and who provided the documents to me.


Townsell wrote Metroplan board members:

The 30 Crossing decision has taken a long time. With two additional public comment periods to be undertaken it will take a little longer still. At this stage, the Board must determine how it will proceed in light of ArDOT’s decision to hold projects. The Board can approve the TIP amendment as soon as possible to end the impasse The Board can also hold course for a few months until the Environmental Assessment is released and then ask the impacted jurisdictions for their direction. As a Board member would you wish to see the results of an Environmental Assessment before you approve a project? Would you ask the three most impacted jurisdictions to do otherwise?

More examination to come, but here are the basics.

* Here’s the threatening letter from Scott Bennett.

* Here are the projects imperiled by Bennett’s dictate.

* Here’s Tab Townsell’s letter to Scott Bennett.