Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce today declined to issue a preliminary injunction to stop work on the $1.3-billion 30 Crossing freeway widening project through Little Rock.
The Downtown Neighborhood Association and others had asked for the injunction because of uncertainty about how the project will be funded and what form it will take now that the state has lost the availability of hundreds of millions in temporary sales tax money as a result of another lawsuit. The Arkansas Department of Transportation has said it will shift money from other sources and build the project in stages. That wasn’t the plan during an environmental assessment being challenged in a separate federal lawsuit.
Richard H. Mays, attorney for plaintiffs in the public interest lawsuit heard today, said the judge heard from his witnesses and concluded the plaintiffs couldn’t demonstrate “probable harm” from continuing construction work, an element necessary to issue an injunction.
Mays commented: “Obviously, he did not reach the issue of whether ArDOT had shown that it could complete the 30 Corridor Project (or any others) with available non-Amendment 91 funding.”
In yet another state court lawsuit in a different court, the state is going to have to provide information about its future financing plans and what it intends to do about recovering money spent on I-30, I-630 and a project in Saline County, all of which widened existing freeways. The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that the temporary sales tax money could only be spent on four-lane roads.
Mays said he’d emphasized at the hearing today the highway department’s “consistent underestimation” of the project’s cost. That $1.3 billion, once inflation and contractors’ experience come into play, probably still isn’t enough.
Mays’ witnesses were Dale Pekar, an economist and resident of the I-30 Corridor area, and John Hedrick, a transportation manager and consultant and resident of the area).
He said Pekar testified on the amount no longer available, $789 million, and the amount required to pay off the outstanding balance in the Amendment 91 bond account financed by the sales tax. He said harm would result for him and others if construction is interrupted for lack of money. Hedrick also testified about hazards and uncertainties about completion should work have to be stopped.
The state asked for a directed judgment on the injunction and prevailed on the request.
Mays said the lawsuit’s effort to obtain information on highway financing will continue. He said the department to date has been essentially non-responsive for details on how it plans to pay for this and other projects.