Quote of the Week 1
"You can't presume cars will be the preferred choice of transportation 20 years from now, you can't presume no one wants to wants to invest in public transit just because we Central Arkansans are essentially forced to drive cars today in our unbalanced, car-culture infrastructure, and you can't presume Rock Region METRO won't be successful in gaining more funding."
— Becca Green of Rock Region METRO, expressing the public transit system's opposition to the proposed expansion of Interstate 30 in downtown Little Rock. On Aug. 24, Green was in the majority of those on Metroplan's Regional Planning Advisory Council who voted 20-3 against the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department's request to waive a Metroplan policy limiting freeways to six lanes. (The proposed "30 Crossing" project would expand I-30 to a minimum of 10 lanes.) The full Metroplan board is expected to approve the waiver nonetheless.
Quote of the Week 2:
"Barry, Joe and I discussed it and agreed this is the appropriate direction."
— Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola in an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, stating his support for the 30 Crossing plan. Stodola, along with North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith and Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde, sent a letter to their fellow Metroplan board members endorsing the highway department's waiver request.
Not the ideal candidate
Republican James Hall of Monticello, who is running for a legislative seat left open by the death of Democratic Rep. Sheila Lampkin in July, is facing jail time for three counts of harassment regarding his ex-wife, her lawyer and her pastor via phone calls and Facebook. Last week, the state Court of Appeals upheld Hall's 2015 conviction and sentence (90 days to a year in the Drew County jail). Democrats have also questioned Hall's eligibility to hold elected office based on a separate conviction for writing a hot check, and state Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb has said Hall should quit the race. He's vowed to keep running. On the Democratic side is LeAnne Burch, a retired Army brigadier general.
Battle for the ballot
At least two ballot initiatives slated to appear before voters in November will first be challenged at the Arkansas Supreme Court. A committee of the Arkansas Bar Association is suing over a proposed constitutional amendment to cap damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, with the attorneys' group saying the measure would abridge the constitutional right to a trial by jury. And a group opposing medical marijuana has filed a challenge of the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act on the grounds that its ballot title is misleading on several details. (Another, competing attempt to allow medical marijuana is still awaiting clearance to appear on the ballot.)
Broadway Bridge is closing down
It's finally happening. One of two main thoroughfares linking downtown Little Rock and downtown North Little Rock will close on Sept. 28 for an estimated six months of construction. If the contractor hired to replace the 93-year-old bridge completes the job early, it will receive an incentive of $80,000 per day ahead of schedule; it will be penalized for a longer-than-expected closure. The 25,000 cars that cross the Broadway Bridge each day have to go somewhere, so expect severe rush hour bottlenecks downtown until springtime. You can find those Rock Region bus schedules at rrmetro.org.
Correcting corrections, by the numbers
Arkansas's prison population is among the fastest growing in the country. Last week, after a year of analysis, the Council of State Governments Justice Center presented its recommendations for reforms to a legislative task force. Among the figures:
$512 million: The approximate amount Arkansas spent on state corrections, probation and parole in fiscal year 2015.
68 percent: The increase in spending from 2004 to 2015.
18,965: The number of prisoners under Department of Corrections supervision in 2015.
21 percent: The increase in prison population between 2012 and 2016.
1,800: The number of prison beds that the Justice Center says would be freed up if the state imposed time limits on the re-incarceration of parolees and probationers who commit technical violations (that is, those who did not commit a new crime).
$100 million: The projected savings such a change would produce over a six-year period.