Metroplan met today and learned of changes in the highway department’s planning for widening Interstate 30 through downtown Little Rock.
A full explanation of the plan with accompanying drawings won’t be available until an environmental report is complete, but Barry Haas, who’s been following the progress closely as an advocate for a better alternative, wrote a summary of the meeting and sent along materials distributed today.
He said the department is now focusing on two options for the bigger concrete gulch — both so-called six-lane projects with two so-called collector/distribution lanes in each direction (10 lanes in all in the heart of downtown). It has dropped two eight-lane conventional freeway models. The discussion this morning, Haas said, indicated the six lanes would be built below grade compared with collector lanes and city streets. Changes are still possible as an environmental assessment continues. But if the below-grade plan survives (without any plan for building a park over it as some far-thinking cities have done) it truly will be a wider concrete gulch. And analysis of late shows it won’t ease traffic congestion, which isn’t much of a problem now except for brief rush-hour periods.
The plans under consideration end direct access to Ninth Street from freeway lanes; making Fourth Street one-way eastbound and keeping Capitol two-way. The collector lanes would be narrower and include other elements (curbs, sidewalks, trees) to slow traffic to make it clear they are not interstate lanes.
The highway department continues to insist it’s in the right in using extortion tactics (blocking spending of federal highway money on regional projects) to force a speedy change in Metroplan’s long-range traffic plan to accommodate its desired expansion. Many, including Metroplan staff, disagree with that interpretation and say no change in the plan is necessary until the environmental assessment is complete. Highway Director Scott Bennett, who recently instituted the spending blockade, was not present.
The Metroplan Board also approved a resolution endorsing the so-called “split diamond” design for an exit in downtown Little Rock.
It’s unclear to me from what Haas provided how below-grade freeway lanes might affect the talk of a park from Cumberland Street to the Clinton Library with the elimination of the Highway 10/Second Street exit.
The plan does not — and will not — make any provisions for the immense impact on the downtown street grid of a new way of dumping freeway traffic into the street system. That will be the city’s responsibility, state officials have said. Nor does it consider the new demand that the work through downtown, between the north and south terminal interchanges, will create on all the freeways that feed into that 6-mile stretch, particularly the Mills Freeway (I-630).