Federal Judge James Moody heard further testimony Wednesday but deferred a decision on a request for a preliminary injunction to halt work on the billion-dollar Interstate 30 expansion project through Little Rock until there’s an adequate environmental impact statement.
The so-called 30 Crossing project, which will cost a billion if voters approve a tax increase on the state ballot in November, would widen the freeway from the south terminal interchange in Little Rock to the north terminal interchange at I-40. The Arkansas River bridge will be replaced as the road expands to 10 lanes and further degrades neighborhoods it has long ruptured. The Department of Transportation says it might ease relatively brief congestion on the road while causing new demands on other highways and upending the city traffic grid.
Moody did hear testimony presented by the plaintiffs’ attorney, Richard Mays, from Dr. John Kirk of UA Little Rock and Casey Covington of Metropolan. The state had tried to block their testimony. As related to me by Mays:
Kirk testified about the history of race relations in Little Rock, the impact of the construction of I-30 and I-630 on perpetuating segregation and the absence of that top from the state’s environmental assessment. He said he believed the project would worsen the feeling of disconnection from the city of those who live east of I-30 and south of I-630.
Covington discussed computer modeling that showed if the project is built there’d be bottlenecks of traffic on I-30 south of the south terminal interchange on I-30 from 65h Street to I-430. It also predicted bottlenecks at I-630 and I-30 unless 630 is widened further. The current plans also lack an auxiliary street or ramp on the west side of Interstate 30 during the first phase of the project, which likely will increase traffic substantially in downtown Little Rock.
The state presented a witness on the scope of the project and attorneys argued whether the state’s environmental assessment was sufficient, as opposed to a full environmental impact statement.
The judge said he’d study the record and notify attorneys of a decision soon.
Design and utility relocation work is already underway on the project. The state locked itself into a contract that requires it to pay the contractor even if work is halted. It’s trying to leverage that into pressure on the judge to ignore the National Environmental Policy Act, which seems to argue for a deeper environmental review.