The Little Rock Board of Directors is to hear from the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department Tuesday evening on the Department’s plans for a proposed $600 million expansion of Interstate 30 through the city.
The project has attracted criticism in recent weeks for what opponents say will hurt development in the city’s downtown. Ward three city director Kathy Webb plans to eventually introduce a resolution opposing the plan.
“I think that the project as it stands now will be divisive to the city it will have a detrimental impact on the Rivermarket and other neighborhoods,” said Webb.
The department’s plan to construct a major expansion of Interstate 30 through the city is at issue. The 600 million dollar plan would widen the interstate from six lanes to ten. The project would be mostly funded mostly by a 2012 voter-approved sales tax increase whose revenues went to the Connecting Arkansas Program.
Among the area stakeholders critical of the Highway Department’s I-30 plan are the leaders of Rock Region Metro, the public transit agency whose railcar east of I-30 may be disrupted under highway expansion. Executive Director Jarrod Varner said if that is the case, his agency would have to return federal money that funded nearly 80 percent of the streetcar project.
“The value of that asset would have to be repaid to the federal government and Rock Region Metro,” said Varner. “And that’s a problem for two reasons: one, because we would no longer have that anchor of development. But also, it would be very difficult for Rock Region Metro and our cities to compete for federal transit dollars in the future if we were to throw away is we’re willing to throw away an 8-year old investment.”
The rail system, which went on line in 2007, was a 30 million dollar project, Varner said.
On Wednesday, the Regional Advisory Council (RPAC), of central Arkansas’s publicly-funded urban planning agency Metroplan, will also hear from the Highway Department on the I-30 project. Metroplan Executive Director Jim McKenzie says his agency will also present to the public a systems analysis of the effects of the proposal. He says the study shows that the I-30 project would induce demand for more traffic which will eventually spread onto connecting interstates, complicating
“So the corridor is effective in moving traffic faster through it because it’s wider but then if the entire system still has chokepoints in it then that traffic gets chokepoints and it will back up in the corridor and defeat the purpose,” said McKenzie.
Highway officials dispute evidence that adding lanes to existing highways will artificially create demand for more traffic on those highways. In an earlier interview with KUAR, AHTD spokesman Danny Straessle called it “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,” said 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.”
The Little Rock City Board of Directors will meet at 7pm Tuesday at the Clinton Presidential Center to hear from AHTD Director Scott Bennett.