by Max Brantley
How do you respond to concerns that replacing the I-30 bridge and widening the highway could hurt what has been the successful redevelopment of downtown Little Rock?I think we could have some debate on highway building as an economic development tool. There's many a mile of freeway through vast stretches of economically depressed regions in Arkansas. Northwest Arkansas exploded despite a road system that was notably deficient at the time of its greatest growth. Few serious transportation experts can be heard now to dispute the damage done to cities by the freeway building boom that began in the 1950s with paths plotted through the hearts of once-vibrant neighborhoods. (Except in Arkansas, of course.) There's also the question of where and what types of development are encouraged by freeway building. Road building essentially amounts to a taxpayer subsidy of cheap developments in suburban cities, which lure families with school children and major retail and other development, which can damage core cities. Witness, in fact, Interstate 30 and its feeder Interstate 630 for evidence of the deleterious impact of freeways on cities.
We take those comments very seriously and have adapted our plans over time as citizens have expressed concerns about aspects of the project. We schedule public meetings for exactly that purpose. The successful redevelopment of downtown Little Rock has been a source of pride for this city, and we’ve made working with community leaders on the subject a top priority.
Improving the interstate will ultimately be an economic development tool for the area that more quickly connects motorists with where they want to be, whether that’s employees driving to work or patrons driving to downtown restaurants and retail spaces.