The lawsuit seeking to stop the billion-dollar Interstate 30 widening project in downtown Little Rock stepped up a notch today with the filing of a request for a preliminary injunction to prevent work from starting until the lawsuit can be decided. It also asks to stop certain work on connecting roads.
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Individuals and groups represented by Richard Mays and Heather Zachary have challenged the so-called 30 Crossing project as having failed to pass the environmental scrutiny required by federal law. It is a 7.3-mile project between Interstate 40 in North Little Rock and the south terminal interchange with the Pine Bluff freeway and I-30. The state had estimated the project would cost $600 million, but it’s ballooned far beyond that, not counting new traffic demands it will create on connecting roads.
The injunction request says federal and state highway officials had acted unreasonably in issuing a FONSI, or finding of no significant impact, from the project. The project holds innumerable potential harmful impacts, from air and water pollution, to neighborhood degradation and increased traffic demands and disruption of traffic patterns elsewhere, plaintiffs contend. The original lawsuit was filed in May. Said today’s filing:
Defendants have not, as of the date of filing of this Motion, filed a Response to
the Complaint or filed the administrative record that was before the FHWA at the time of the issuance of the FONSI. Defendants have also not indicated when construction on the 30 Crossing Project may commence, but they have contracted with a construction team to submit a proposal for construction of the Project, or so much thereof as may be built with available funds, and Defendants may commence construction at any time.
A preliminary injunction is necessary in this case because the work on the Project
may commence at any time and without notice. In the event of commencement of construction, Defendants may become obligated to pay contractors for mobilization costs, and actual work may commence on demolishing roadways, excavation and grading of new roadbed, demolition of the I-30 bridge, and other work that would involve costs in excess of $500 million, and constitute an irrevocable and irretrievable commitment to a particular course of action. In addition, the commencement of work on the Project would cause permanent and irrevocable harm to the environment and to Plaintiffs’ interests as set forth in the Complaint, and frustrate any further meaningful environmental review of the decision of FHWA and ArDOT to perform the project work.
The plaintiffs say the state wouldn’t be harmed by stopping work and the public would be served by observing the federal environmental policy law that requires comprehensive impact studies before federally funded projects can proceed. They aim for a broader work stopping than on the 30 Crossing project.
Further, Defendants are planning additional construction activities on portions of
interstate highways adjoining and connecting with those portions of Interstate 30 that are included in the 30 Crossing Project, particularly on portions of I-30 south of the southern terminus of the 30 Corridor Project and on portions of I-630 from its intersection with I-30 westward to University Avenue. Such additional construction would impact the 30 Corridor Project, influence and limit the choice of reasonable alternatives, and cause direct, indirect and cumulative effects on and to the 30 Corridor Project, and such additional projects should also be enjoined pending further order of this Court.
The filing asks federal Judge James Moody for a speedy hearing.
The request is accompanied by substantial supporting documents, including a lengthy brief and 21 exhibits. Early in June, the state asked for more time to respond to the lawsuit.
In summary, Mays said, plaintiffs argue that the Arkansas Department of Transportation made numerous errors, including depriving the public from commenting on reasonable alterantives to a 10-lane freeway. They also challenge a procedure that will allow contractors to change the project during the course of construction and, probably most important, going through a design and review process for a project the state doesn’t have enough money to build.
The plaintiffs argue that highway officials manipulated computer modeling to favor a 10-lane freeway; disregarded the impact of congestion the project will create elsewhere and failed to analyze impact on minority and lower-income neighborhoods.
The suit wants the court to order a more detailed environmental impact statement. Such statements don’t necessarily kill projects, but they delay them and sometimes force bargaining on the shape of projects. That happened when community groups fought the Interstate 630 project in Little Rock. It was eventually built with significant design changes. It still has had a demonstrably harmful impact on the community, by segregating the city on racial and economic lines.
I’ve solicited comment from the Department of Transportation. Their response:
Many thanks for the opportunity, but we do not have a comment.