Richard Mays, lawyer for plaintiffs in the public interest lawsuit challenging the billion-dollar 30 Crossing project to widen Interstate 30 through the heart of Little Rock, sent me last night his court filings seeking an injunction to prevent work from starting on the project in less than two weeks.
The fear, of course, is that the Arkansas Department of Transportation will get serious work done before the suit reaches trial and can argue, hey, too late to go back now.
The lawsuit says the freeway builders haven’t done a sufficient environmental impact that the big concrete ditch would undeniably cause, including from air and water pollution to promoting more racial and economic segregation, as such projects have done all over the country.
The highway department plans to start utility relocation work July 21; telecommunications work and pre-construction work on the grounds of the Clinton Center July 28, and roadbed construction in October.
This, Mays said, will amount to an “irretrievable commitment of resources” to the state’s preferred construction alternative — a $1 billion, seven-mile project if voters approve a highway tax increase in November. He says alternatives should be considered and shortcomings in the environmental assessments should be addressed first.
Mays’ brief in support outlines the many shortcomings of the state’s partial environmental review, including wetlands damage from the North Little Rock portion of the project and the cumulative impact on other highways that are not part of the specific project. Planners have long acknowledged the project would create higher demand and congestion on roads for which no improvements are planned. The project also will severely disrupt the Little Rock traffic grid but provides nothing to ameliorate these.
Mays also argues that the project doesn’t have guaranteed funding, a federal condition for interstate projects. This refers to the fact that the full project will be built only if the tax increase is approved, though there’s a smaller plan with significant differences (not fully assessed environmentally) if it is not.
Mays concludes by saying either version will be the largest, most complicated and most expensive project undertaken by the highway department and uses construction procedures (the so-called design-build approach) for the first time. He said, “..it will impact the human environment of virtually every person currently (and in the future) living in central Arkansas or who travels through the area; it will further negatively impact the racial relations in Little Rock and North Little Rock; and it involves a number of legal issues that are without precedent. These are serious consequences that demand close scrutiny before being implemented.”
Related topic: State highway agencies nationwide are suffering tax losses because of travel reduced by the pandemic. Money is short for ongoing needs. Another good reason to scrap this unnecessary project. Yes, a replacement for the Arkansas River bridge is part of the work and could be accomplished for much less, but Mays notes this replacement is primarily motivated by a desire to improve the shipping channel for barges, a change that will also have environmental consequences.
PS: The billion-dollar concrete ditch project was put in motion during Scott Bennett’s leadership of the Arkansas highway department, which began in 2011. Bennett left the department in February to take a job with an engineering firm, though he declined at the time to identify the company. I happened to notice the other day that Bennett is in Nashville now as vice president/transportation marketing director for Volkert, Inc., a national firm with projects all over the country, including in Arkansas.
Volkert secures key role in Arkansas DOT’s largest construction project
The firm will provide quality assurance on “30 Crossing,” the widening and improvement project for I-30 through downtown Little Rock.
On October 9, the Arkansas State Highway Commission approved the selection of Kiewit-Massman as design-builders for “30 Crossing,” the expansion of the 6.7-mile stretch of I-30 that runs north-south over the Arkansas River between Little Rock and North Little Rock. The team includes Burns & McDonnell Engineering as lead designer and Volkert, Inc. as the lead quality assurance firm.