Recent court filings in the lawsuit over the environmental impact of the proposal to widen the swath of I-30 concrete through the heart of Little Rock can be boiled down simply.
The Arkansas Department of Transportation and federal allies who’ll pay for a lot of the work seem to be slow-walking the legal action. The plaintiffs in the public interest lawsuit want answers now that the state has so far been unwilling to give.
The questions boil down to the scope of the project the state wants to build — the $1 billion orgy of concrete or a phased-in version of the project, beginning with a modest $500 million or so. If Arkansas taxpayers approve a quarter-billion tax increase for highways in November, then the big pour is on. The tax increase, by the way, will NOT cover the expensive impact on city streets and new traffic problems in connecting highways.
The shape of the project obviously affects the environmental impact. The lawsuit argues a sufficient environmental impact statement hasn’t been done.
Here’s the federal court filing on behalf of the state for a clarification of the federal judge’s recent order. It says essentially that the plaintifs seem to want too much information at this point and that it was just a “goal” to have a reassessment of an environmental review completed by May 31.
He said the judge ordered a status report by June 1. It’s not a goal. And, yes, the plaintiffs want more details than the state has been willing to provide.
Defendants also appear to have assumed that, by confirming their goal regarding the completion of the reassessment, there was no further concern on the part of the Plaintiffs regarding the remaining issues contained in Plaintiffs’ Motion. However, Plaintiffs have not waived any such concerns, and they are of great significance in this case in the following ways:
a. The scope of the proposed Project as finally determined by the Defendants will affect the scope of and issues in this lawsuit;
b. The contents of the Notice to Proceed No. 1 (including a detailed description of the tasks covered and the costs thereof) will indicate whether the Defendants have made an irreversible and irretrievable commitment of resources to a particular plan or alternative covered by the environmental assessment, contrary to the dictates of the National Environmental Policy Act, the various Highway Acts, and their implementing regulations.
The funding for the Project and the activities conducted by the Defendants are provided by public funds, and Plaintiffs, as members of the public who have standing to sue in this case, are entitled to the information. Defendants have, prior to the filing of this case and during its course, failed and refused to provide that information to Plaintiffs or members of the public in general.
I get the feeling that the Arkansas Department of Transportation hopes to get the I-30 work going and delay the legal challenge long enough to effectively make it moot. Something similar to that happened on the Interstate 630 widening project.