The federal government has given the green light to Arkansas highway officials to embark on what would be the state’s largest ever roadway investment.
The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department announced on Wednesday that a year-long Planning and Environmental Linkages Study was approved by the Federal Highway Administration earlier this month.
Danny Straessle with the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department said Wednesday that the $450 million project would expand a stretch of I-30, cutting through downtown Little Rock and across the river, from six to ten lanes.
Straessle emphasized even with construction – plans are for a 2018 groundbreaking – traffic should still keep flowing on I-30 through downtown Little Rock.
“We will maintain lanes of traffic open in both directions, up to three lanes in both directions, because any reduction in the available lanes in that corridor is really going to exacerbate the problem and cause a lot of delays,” Straessle said.
The so-called “30 Crossing” averaged between 106,000 and 123,000 vehicles a day in 2014. The additional lanes are expected by 2041 to support 131,000 to 176,000 per day along various points connecting I-30, I-40 and I-530 in Central Arkansas.
The preliminary schedule calls for an environmental and schematic phase to be completed by mid-2016, a design-build team will start work in 2017, and construction could begin in 2018. Part of the next phase includes designing a new bridge to span Arkansas River.
"What will the I-30 river crossing look like? We are going to totally replace the existing bridge, we do know that. We could potentially build one large bridge to replace the existing bridge that would carry three lanes of traffic in both directions and then have a separate bridge on either side of that one that would carry the two collector distributor lanes, or you could have one large bridge that carries everything,” said Straessle.
Another downtown Little Rock crossing, the Broadway Bridge, is also undergoing replacement. Straessle said the initial report approved by federal officials affects 11 existing properties, six of them residences. He credits original I-30 land purchases, in the early 1960s, with leaving ample space for expansion.