by Max Brantley
The 30 Crossing project is not, strictly speaking, a historic preservation issue. As far as we presently are aware, no significant historic resources would be directly affected by the project. However, the project almost certainly would have an impact on redevelopment efforts east of Interstate 30 in Little Rock, an area in which the Quapaw Quarter Association has a vested interest as owner of the Woodruff House. In addition, 30 Crossing brings with it a wide array of design and quality-of-life issues that would affect the Quapaw Quarter - and the City as a whole - for decades to come. Consequently, the Quapaw Quarter Association offers its perspective:
As historic preservationists who have witnessed firsthand the destructive and divisive impact interstate highways have had on cities across the country, we cannot be "pro-interstate." There can be no doubt that the interstate highway program was poorly conceived when it came to routing interstates through cities, and Little Rock has suffered accordingly. History reflects that in past generations, many state and city leaders wrote off areas east of Interstate 30 and south of Interstate 630 as the "bad" parts of town, best separated from the rest of the city by concrete barriers. Ideally, these barriers would come down, and our city could be knitted back together.
However, it is our belief - after meetings with highway officials and city leaders, as well as much discussion - that there is very little chance the interstates will be removed entirely from the heart of downtown Little Rock. Given that belief, we consider it critical to be involved in guiding the 30 Crossing project so that it has the least possible detrimental impact on the Quapaw Quarter and is designed with features that might even be viewed as positive.
As an organization committed to the preservation and revitalization of historic places in Little Rock, we believe any major undertaking like this should focus on getting people to downtown Little Rock, not through it; enhancing safety; and repairing as much of the physical divide created by I-30 and I-630 as possible. Some traffic congestion in an urban area should be accepted as a fact of life. In addition, research suggests that transportation innovations will lead to fewer, not more, cars driving through and into Little Rock in years to come. We hope that the following factors will be addressed before the 30 Crossing project is finalized:
Consider all options to enhance safety
Repair of the I-30 bridge should be seen as an opportunity to design the best possible solution to safety and traffic concerns in downtown Little Rock. While most are not fatal, this stretch of I-30 has a high number of accidents. Those travelling this route would benefit from better-designed interchanges and on and off ramps. Preferably, these safety issues can be addressed without widening the Interstate footprint so much that it will trigger construction and widenings in Little Rock and central Arkansas for many years to come. We look forward to learning the results of the NEPA process evaluation of an eight lane option.
Repair divide between east and west
All streets that currently connect the east and west sides of I-30 need to remain open. The connections should be enhanced to encourage pedestrian and bicycle traffic in addition to vehicular traffic. Noise should be reduced along the corridor, and, in particular, where roads will pass under the Interstate. The Hanger Hill area has struggled since the construction of I-30, and is now seeing renewed interest and investment in spite of it. One issue the neighborhood faces daily is the 15th Street exit off I-630 that allows drivers to exit, cut through the neighborhood at high speeds on College Street, and enter I-30 further north. The high speeds at which they travel on College Street create constant safety concerns for local residents. This problem needs to be addressed, but a 15th Street exit should remain open for use by residents and local businesses.
Design and prepare for transportation innovations
Many people and organizations have worked very hard to revitalize downtown and surrounding neighborhoods, and they will continue to do so. Nationwide, people are driving less and moving back to vibrant urban areas. Perhaps fewer lanes for through traffic would accommodate future needs and encourage drivers to take other routes around downtown. If collector distributor lanes are built at grade and integrated with the existing street grid, we believe the visual impact of ten lanes through downtown would be lessened. Ideally, the final plan would be such that future construction work, which would further disrupt life and commerce downtown, could be avoided.
Minimize disruptions during construction
Even if all goes according to plan, we understand that the construction phase of this project is scheduled to last a minimum of four full years, beginning in 2017 or 2018 and running through the end of 2021. If not planned and staged thoughtfully to minimize disruptions to the downtown area, the project could possibly slow or halt downtown's renaissance, particularly east of I-30, at a critical time for Little Rock. We urge AHTD, with input from city government and other stakeholders, to work hard to avoid harming the very good things happening throughout the downtown area.
We are specifically opposed to the pairing of Second and Fourth Streets as the "off and on- ramps" for downtown Little Rock. A better solution must be found for the problems associated with the intersection of La Harpe Boulevard, President Clinton Avenue, and Cumberland Street. We favor the idea of a design charrette drawing upon local talent.
We are encouraged by AHTD's continued discussions with the public and stakeholders and with the recent changes to the plan in response to local concerns. The Quapaw Quarter Association urges the continuation of these discussions until all parties with a vested interest in downtown are satisfied.