The world grinds on, coronavirus or no. For example, a public comment period is underway at Metroplan on the Arkansas Department of Transportation’s request for approval of a return to its original billion-dollar, neighborhood-destroying concrete gulch plan to widen Interstate 30 for seven miles through the heart of Little Rock and North Little Rock.
The agency taking comments includes leadership of local officials like Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and County Judge Barry Hyde who are beholden to the highway construction industry. They’ll endorse however much concrete the freeway builders want to pour. Induced traffic demand on connecting roads? Wreckage of the city grid? Environmental impact? Displaced people? Shaving seconds off commuting time for people who take their spending power to suburban communities? Who cares?
Well, some do.
For instance, there’s the Coalition of Little Rock Neighborhoods. Its president Kathy Wells has written Metroplan to object to speedy approval of the Freeway Department’s concrete obsession.
It would be premature to authorize spending money that would not become available unless voters approve a sales tax on the November election ballot. Assuming election outcomes is bad public policy.
Revenues are declining for all governments, because sales taxes are not being paid, nor remitted to governments, with businesses closed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. No one knows how long this will last. We have reason to think economic losses will be enormous, in the months ahead.
Certainly, a new bridge must be constructed over the Arkansas River.
However, the remainder of this seven-mile proposal should be suspended until further notice. The expansion originated in an effort to speed commuters on their way, saving 15 minutes of driving at peak traffic times. Compare that to conditions today, and recognize we have more urgent uses for those millions.
That becomes doubly important when we recall the state has acknowledged that this entire project will fail to perform as planned, unless more millions are spent also to expand I630 for miles to the west.
Tom Fennell, a downtown resident and longtime activist against the so-called 30 Crossing project, contributed this letter.
It says in part:
Metroplan should reject this amendment on legal grounds and common sense. This change assumes the citizens of Arkansas will vote in favor of the proposed sales tax in the fall to fund the shortfall. This is not a certainty and will be a costly error if the voters decide Metroplan and ArDOT have overstepped their bounds and taken the citizens for granted. Allocating monies that do not exist is certainly unethical and most likely illegal in Arkansas and further time and monies spent now based on this error is unwise. ArDOT and Metroplan have been reluctant to divulge how many millions they are wasting developing these various “options” that change month to month.
It is time to bring the work on 30 Crossing to a halt until the lawsuits are resolved, a final scope is settled and a realistic budget is developed.
The “long range” view is cloudy and confusing to the public for 30 Crossing as communication from ArDOT and Metroplan has been more propaganda than fact. The public has been left in the dark so ArDOT can insure the huge highway contracts are safely delivered to the contractors. When the overwhelming negative public comments were received on this project and the RPAC citizen’s advisory board opposed the earlier (TIP) amendments, what did ArDOT and Metroplan do? They ignored the public comments and disbanded the RPAC. Scott Bennett said at a public hearing early on that he didn’t want to “cram this down our throats” but isn’t this exactly what happened? The governing board of Metroplan lost its voice when ArDOT threatened publicly to withhold local road and bridge funds from counties and municipalities if the respective mayors and county judges didn’t vote “right,” which they have.
Richard Mays, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit to stop the project on environmental grounds, had this to say. He details the failures in environmental review, planning, design and cost estimates that have marred this project from the start. He points out that the highway department is playing games on exactly what project it plans to build — bigger, smaller, somewhere in between. He argues the law prevents Metroplan from approving an enlarged project because the funding isn’t assured. He suggests Metroplan refuse to accept the state’s amendment or at least defer it until after the November election.
Comments to Metroplan are due by Monday. The Improve 30 Crossing Facebook page has a wealth of comment and information about the flaws in this project, currently challenged in a lawsuit that the highway department is trying to sidestep by putting work in motion that it hopes a judge will decide can’t be negated. That happened already on the I-630 widening project and the same judge is in the decision chair.