A nearly half-billion dollar highway construction project to widen a section of Interstate 30 running through Little Rock and North Little Rock is the focus of a public meeting scheduled for Thursday night in North Little Rock. KUAR's Chris Hickey recently spoke with State Representative Warwick Sabin of Little Rock who raises objections about what the project might do to the social and economic climate of the city.
The highway department will be presenting exhibits and answering questions on the project from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday at the gym of the Friendly Chapel Church of the Nazarene in North Little Rock.
The I-30 project would encompass a section of highway stretching from I-540 in south Little Rock to I-530 in North Little Rock. Also affected is a section of I-40 in North Little Rock. The project would widen the highway from 6 lanes to 10 and replace the bridge over the Arkansas river. Straessle says the Department has spent the last year conducting a planning and environmental linkages study. In addition, the Department has already held four public involvement meetings on the project. He says the area of I-30 in question sees more than 125,000 vehicles per day.
In his statement, Sabin argues that the expansion of the interstate would only create a greater demand for vehicular traffic.
“Yes, there is rush hour traffic on I-30, but that is perfectly normal. The highway flows just fine during all other hours of the day, and history shows that expanding roads usually doesn’t eliminate backups during peak times, but instead it simply invites more vehicular use,” he writes.
On the point that traffic simply increases when a road is widened, Straessle says that's a misconception.
“It's actually the reverse. The interstate is being widened and improved to accommodate the traffic that's already there we're playing catch-up,” says Straessle. “The traffic is going to increase along the I-30 corridor regardless of whether or not we improve the I-30 corridor or not. The question is: how much more congestion is the public willing to put up with because it will only continue to get worse.”
Sabin also suggests that Little Rock and North Little Rock should consider alternatives to highway expansion, examples of which can be found in other cities that have removed interstate highways in recent years.
“If we are going to invest the time and money to think beyond replacing the I-30 bridge, then we should use that opportunity to be creative and innovative in how we direct traffic through and into our downtown area. We should pay attention to current trends — which demonstrate that high-density, pedestrian-friendly urban areas with robust public transit facilitate economic growth — while also anticipating the future, when multi-lane highways may no longer be as desirable.”
Straessle says those alternatives would be too costly.
“Those are predominantly city streets on both sides of the river. That would put the direction onto the cities. If we're going to develop more of the secondary streets then the cities would have to come up with money and projects to increase the capacity on those arterials,” he says.
Further reading on traffic and road widening research: