A public comment period is drawing to a close on the proposed widening of Interstate 30 through Little Rock and North Little Rock, known as the "30 Crossing" project. Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department Officials are accepting public input through Sunday on the expansion, estimated to cost about 600 million dollars.
Highway Department spokesman Danny Straessle says the about 250 to 300 written comments have been submitted thus far.
“The comments range across the spectrum as you might imagine. Some comments in favor of the project, some that are not in favor of the project. And of course with any project that we do anywhere in the state, this is what you have,” Straessle said.
The I-30 project proposes to widen a section of freeway from 6 lanes to 10. Designers say the 10 lanes would consist of 6 “through lanes,” accommodating for vehicles that aren’t exiting into the two cities, and 4 “collector/distributor” lanes, accommodating for vehicles that are exiting. An 8 lane alternative is also under consideration. In addition to the lane expansion, engineers are redesigning an interchange in downtown Little Rock. The plan also includes replacing the Arkansas river bridge.
Many city residents have voiced disapproval with plans for the interchange, because it could possibly make living and working conditions in the Rivermarket district less attractive. Others have said the highway department should refocus efforts beyond expanding highways and instead redirect resources toward public mass transit and devise policies that would encourage people who work near the city center to also live closer. Still, others have welcomed the 10-lane plan for its potential to ease commuting times from outlying areas.
The 10 lane proposal was submitted by engineers who had conducted a Planning and Environmental Linkages, or PEL, study. Completed in July, the study assessed how effective the various highway designs would reduce traffic congestion and affect the surrounding communities.
Straessle says the end of the current comment period is just one step in a process that has already included dozens of meetings and several public hearings.
“We’ve already been at this for over a year now, in looking at what needs to be done and how it will impact the community and commuters and people who are in the area for entertainment value and the like. So it’s not something that you can look at and say it’s something we need done by this date in this year,” he says.
The current comment period had been previously been extended from 15-days to a 45-days. Straessle notes that another public comment period will occur next spring in response to findings from a study mandated by the National Environmental Protection Act, or NEPA. That study is already underway.
The project must also still get approval from the board of directors of the regional planning authority, Metroplan.
Metroplan’s staff has raised the issue that the 10 lane expansion is inconsistent with the agency’s binding long-range transportation plan called Imagine Central Arkansas. That document requires a 6-lane cap on expanding freeways in and around parts of Little Rock. Beyond 6 lanes, the plan directs those in charge of building transportation infrastructure to consider other alternatives, like public mass transit.
In order for the 10-lane or 8 lane option to go forward, the Metroplan board, consisting mainly of mayors and county judges from the 5-county region, would have to vote to alter the document.
The Federal Highway Administration must also give its approval for the 30 Crossing project. The Little Rock Board of Directors is to take up a non-binding resolution later this month calling for further study of the plan's impact on the city.
The I-30 expansion is mostly funded by revenue from a sales tax increase that Arkansas voters approved in 2012. Revenue from the sales tax went to several highway improvement projects across the state. Highway officials say they'd like to contract with a builder in 2017 and see construction begin by 2018.
Michael Hibblen contributed to the reporting of this story.