The Arkansas Department of Transportation’s draft Environmental Assessment of the impact of its plan to widen Interstate 30 and build a new bridge is lacking in detail in some areas,  needs rewording in others and contains a statement of questionable accuracy regarding water resources, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has told ARDOT in its comment on the project. The public comment period on the draft EA ended July 27.

In its letter to ARDOT, the Corps asks:

•That the height of the I-30 bridge “web wall,” which stabilizes support for bridge columns, be lowered and that ARDOT provide additional details on the design for review and approval by the Corps.

•That “a discussion should be included” regarding the Pointe at North Hills Apartments development north of Dark Hollow. “We have development information associated with the Dark Hollow area that can be provided.”

• “[Y]ou should verify that the statement, ‘Therefore the historic decline in water resources is not likely to continue and is not a concern due to the large amounts of wetlands and floodplains present in the project watershed,’ is accurate since many publications state that there is actually a slow and steady decline of water resources due to development.”

•”A detailed explanation should be provided in the EA as to how Level of Service (LOS) and peak traffic are related since they are considered in the alternatives analysis and are used to develop the purpose and need.”

• Add language or reword the Environmental Justice Section to “clearly state that all of the alternatives would have approximately the same impacts on minority populations. Also, we recommend adding some historical discussion regarding the disproportionate impacts of transportation on minority populations” in the EA.

• Include a discussion of Section 408 of the Rivers and Harbors Act that requires Corps review of any proposal to alter or temporarily or permanently occupy or use any Corps civil works project.

• Reword language on jurisdictional wetlands to state that they are “areas adjacent to rivers or streams that are periodically inundated or saturated with water and are identified by their hydrology indicators, plant communities and soil characteristics.”

• Add information on why wetlands are important.

• Add language to explain ARDOT’s measures to avoid and minimize the road’s impact on wetlands at, for example, the “40/U.S. Highway 67 interchange where wetland impacts are the greatest.”

The Corps’ comments were part of 1,092 pages containing comments, observations and questions submitted to ARDOT by an estimated 300 people during the public comment on the $631.7 million project to widen 7 miles of I-30. A rough count of comments stating their positions clearly was 175 nos to 91 yesses. As before, most of those who support the project commented with boilerplate language written for them. Those opposed included only two repetitions (by archeological and historic preservation interests); the rest raised many of the same issues — air pollution, harm to Little Rock’s downtown, the cost of construction and maintenance — but were not boilerplate. Many of those in opposition were lengthy, providing articles about road projects elsewhere and questioning ARDOT’s models, including footnotes.

Several expressed skepticism that ARDOT’s decision would be in anyway affected by public opinion in opposition to the doubling of the width of I-30 through Little Rock and North Little Rock.