Why do anything just partway? Instead of expanding another interstate from eight lanes to a mere 10, why not pave over all the land between Tennessee and Oklahoma? And then for bad measure do the same with all that wasted space between Missouri and Louisiana. That way motorists may no longer need to pause at spots like Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art or what was once a state Capitol at Little Rock. Such eyesores would all be gone, replaced by unbroken pavement as far as the eye could see.
Getting back to so-called reality, We the People are told there’s no reason to fear. “It’s not going to be 10 lanes of pure interstate,” says the executive director of Metroplan, Tab Townsell, the one-man brain trust behind this whole misbegotten operation. Its motto might as well be: Pave now. Think later if ever.
The late great George Fisher used to depict the Corps of Engineers’ never idle employees wearing badges that said Keep Busy as they despoiled the land. Now the people of Arkansas have a state Department of Transportation charged with much the same misdirected duty. It’s no improvement, just bigger and worse.
Naturally enough, Ben Browning of the state’s Department of Transportation says the data it’s been collecting shows that eight lanes of traffic won’t get it, and a still undetermined more will be needed to unclog the roads. So folks zooming through downtown Little Rock won’t have to pause on their way to bedroom communities beyond the city limits. But his is a vision to beware, not one to welcome.
Little Rock’s mayor, Mark Stodola, says he prefers a split-diamond traffic plan that would create all kinds of park space for folks—just as the animals in Little Rock’s zoo are now free to roam about, but within limits. Perhaps a special section of the zoo could be set aside for that now endangered species known as pedestrians.
Only one member of Rock Region Metro, Pulaski County’s transit agency, voted against this whole jumble of plans to keep traffic moving or maybe gridlocked in downtown Little Rock. Wanda Crawford is her name, and she says the city should stick with its old Imagine Central Arkansas plan.
Nor do those most concerned about preserving old Little Rock sound happy with all these impending changes to the capital city’s already over-complicated traffic plans. Patricia Blick, executive director of the Quapaw Quarter Association, says she welcomes only some of these multitudinous changes being proposed. As she puts it, “We are pleased with some of the modifications we have seen, but obviously we have very serious concerns. The mission of the QQA [Qua-paw Quarter Association] is preservation of Little Rock historic places. So far, our initial concerns are that the split-diamond was pushing too much traffic into the MacArthur Historic District and also immediately adjacent to a National Historic Landmark, the Tower Building at MacArthur Park. We have not had an opportunity to evaluate this modification, so we look forward to continuing conversations.”
What’s to be done now?
It would be a relief if the traffic experts would drop the kind of specialized vocabulary that only football coaches might use, like split diamond and collector-distributor lanes. When an expert assures the public that “The highway department doesn’t have a preference . . . The data determines the preferences,” rest assured that something has been left out of the calculations, and that something just might be the human beings who inhabit this small, wonderful state.
Next, it would be good to slow down and think when behind the wheel instead of being in such an all-fired hurry to get through beautiful Arkansas. Right now the leaves are drifting to the ground, the skies shining, our blessings abounding. So instead of traffic bulletins, let us be still and listen to the all-enveloping sounds of the season.
—––––– v –––––—
Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer and columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.