The Arkansas Department of Transportation will place an ad in the Sunday Democrat-Gazette announcing the start of the 45-day review period for its Environmental Assessment document prepared to support 30 Crossing, the 7-mile, $630+ million project to build a new I-30 bridge and widen the interstate through North Little Rock and downtown Little Rock.

The ArDOT report, made in consultation with the U.S. Federal Highway Administration over the past year, is a nearly 4,000-page analysis of the road project’s impact on the corridor, including historical, cultural, aesthetic and environmental (including noise, air quality and waterways) impacts, how hazardous materials in the old highway will be handled, what the long-term effect of the project could be, and other details. The report includes ArDOT’s analysis of various proposed configurations for the new highway and recommends the 10-lane (6 lanes plus four collector-distributor lanes for ingress and egress) “split diamond” plan (pictured above). ArDOT received a letter from the FHA yesterday that the EA was ready for release.

Hard copies will be available at the Main Library of the Central Arkansas Library System, the William F. Laman Public Library in North Little Rock, Garver Engineers at 4701 Northshore Drive in North Little Rock and the highway department, 10324 Interstate 30 (exit 130). It will also be online at arkansashighways.com. Because the report is 600 megabytes, it will be divided into sections for easier download. A 200-page summary of the report will be available, as well. Comments may be made at all locations where the report is available and online, and the department will review comments as they come in.

The department will hold a public hearing, tentatively set for 4-7 p.m. Thursday, July 12, in the Wyndham Riverfront Hotel in downtown North Little Rock, project director Ben Browning said. Another 15-day comment period will follow. The highway department will “resolve all comments,” Browning said, and send the back to the federal highway department, which will within 30 days either issue a FONSI (finding of no significant impact) or order a full Environmental Impact Statement. Because the feds have been involved in the production of the EA, unless the public comment can convince them the EA it helped prepare has failed to adequately address all impacts, the issuing of a FONSI is almost certain. (So is subsequent litigation.) ArDOT spokesman Danny Straessle said the department’s EA is more comprehensive than usual “in case the feds come back with an EIS”; that way, the department will have less additional work to do, he said.

To date, public comment  — including that of engineers— on the project, which will double I-30’s width at President Clinton Avenue and be even wider at Third Street, has skewed negatively because of its negative impact on efforts to rejuvenate downtown and restore neighborhoods that the original construction of I-30 damaged. The split diamond plan eliminates the cloverleaf at Second and Third streets; Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola envisions a lovely park there, nearly 300 feet of it covered by interstate.

The project is scheduled to begin in 2019. Meanwhile, other American cities are tearing down their old interstates to remove the blight they caused.