Susan Chambers, "Induced demand"
The controversial 30 Crossing project
to fatten up seven miles of Interstate 30 from U.S. Highway 67 in North Little Rock to Interstate 530 in Little Rock will once again get a public hearing, thanks to a vote of the Metroplan board Wednesday. Board members made the decision at the request of Director Tab Townsell,
who said the significance of the $650 million project demands greater outreach than simply seeking public comment in writing.
“We have the authority to say no” to the Arkansas Highway and Transportation’s widening of I-30, Townsell said. “If we are the ultimate decision makers we should be the ones who hear directly from the public.”
Metroplan’s board, made up of city and county officials from the five Central Arkansas counties that the metropolitan planning agency covers, won’t give its yea or nay to the project until the fall as part of its four-year Transportation Improvement Plan approval process. The specifics of 30 Crossing — what form it will take and the latest financial estimates — must be included on Metroplan’s TIP before the AHTD can proceed with the project and before the Federal Highway Administration can issue a finding of no significant impact (FONSI).
First, however, the board will consider an amendment to its federally-mandated long-range transportation plan informed by Metroplan’s analysis of new traffic modeling figures produced by the state highway agency at the request of the FHWA last fall. It is anticipated that the amendment will cover the 30 Crossing project, adding “major widening” to its description — the plan now only refers to “operational improvements” — while identifying other roadways that may need to be widened to accommodate 30 Crossing, such as I-30 from its south terminal with I-530 to 65th Street, I-30 from 65th to I-430 and I-630 west of the 30 Crossing corridor.
Metroplan has already waived its six-lane limit for I-30 in its long-range transportation plan (Imagine Central Arkansas) because of the numerous interchanges in the corridor: with I-40 and U.S. 67 in North Little Rock and I-630, I-440 and I-530 in Little Rock.
Deputy Director Casey Covington will present the amendment to the agency’s advisory council and its board in April, and the public hearing on the amendment will follow. The council will make a non-binding recommendation and the board will vote on the amendment in June.
The AHTD held several public hearings in 2016 to reveal various 30 Crossing design options. The project will replace the I-30 bridge and add two to four through traffic lanes plus “collector-distributer” lanes to guide traffic on and off the highway. Because it would increase the divide between downtown and East Little Rock, which suffered from the construction of I-30 but is now experiencing new investment, several groups have formed to fight the widening and to suggest alternatives. A "split diamond" design with C-D lanes — one that would widen the highway to more than the 10 lanes the AHTD says it includes — has garnered the most support among widening proponents, including the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The Coalition of Greater Little Rock Neighborhoods
has asked County Judge Barry Hyde and Mayor Mark Stodola to demand the AHTD to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement, a more rigorous analysis of the impact of the project than the Environmental Assessment the agency is performing. The EA will be provided to the Federal Highway Administration this fall. “The forthcoming Assessment will not provide the information we all need to weigh the benefits and costs of the $700 million project,” coalition president Kathy Wells wrote Hyde and Stodola on March 3. “Let’s get a federal review of this.”
After today’s meeting, Wells said she believes resolutions in support of an EIS will be put before both the Pulaski County Quorum Court and the Little Rock City Board of Directors.
It’s possible the Environmental Assessment could trigger an EIS, if its data indicates there could be significant impact from the project.