The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Noel Oman reported this morning on filings in the lawsuit challenging the Arkansas Department of Transportation’s big concrete ditch project to widen Interstate 30 through downtown Little Rock and further add to its debilitating impact on the central city.

The project has been scaled down because of a shortage of money to build the project after its original $630 million cost estimate ballooned to the billion-dollar range with only $535 million on hand.

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Two things of note:

  • The article quotes a Freeway Department official as saying he expects construction to begin this year.
  • The article quoted only highway officials. Missing from the article was, for one, Richard Mays, the lawyer for plaintiffs who’ve challenged the sufficiency of the environmental review done for the project.

Had Oman talked to Mays, I’m confident he’d have said he’ll be working to block the start of construction work this year for lack of a proper environmental impact statement. He commented to me on the delay in the case several weeks ago when freeway builders began their review of the modified version of the project:

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The issue is whether the changes will result in likely potential environmental harm not considered by the original Environmental Assessment [a less rigorous review than a full environmental impact statement]. It will take several months to complete the review and then a joint request for a new scheduling order will be filed in the case.

My guess is that ArDOT and FHWA will find that the changes will not result in potential environmental harm, and they will claim that a Supplemental Environmental Assessment will not be necessary, which will give us an additional issue to litigate about. The review will not cure the problems that already exist with the EA that they issued in February.

As for the details of the scaled-down project: It will only bring closer to town the problems engendered by induced demand — the clogging of roads leading into the reduced widening project. It will provide no money for problems created on the city grid or lessen the big concrete pour anticipated in the center of town, along with a new Arkansas River bridge. The project seems mostly designed to shave a few seconds off commuting times for suburban commuters, already a breeze against the national urban experience.