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For I-30, engineers posit 10 lanes

Officials review latest model for corridor’s $450M redesign by Noel Oman | April 17, 2015 at 2:16 a.m.

Engineers working on an estimated $450 million redesign of the Interstate 30 corridor through downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock think the highway section should be 10 lanes wide, officials said during a public meeting Thursday night.

Two of those lanes in each direction would be collector-distributor lanes in the immediate vicinity of downtown and separated from the main traffic lanes to allow for slower and safer speeds to leave and enter the interstate.

About 130 people attended the meeting at Horace Mann Middle School at 1000 E. Roosevelt Road to view and comment on the study team's latest thinking on the best way to reduce congestion through the 6.7-mile corridor. The project includes replacing the I-30 bridge over the Arkansas River.

The meeting was the fourth in a series covering the initial planning stage of the project, which is held to vet all options as part of a federally mandated review of the corridor from Interstate 530 in Little Rock to Interstate 40 and U.S. 67/167 in North Little Rock.

The process included factoring in social, environmental and economic factors before coming up with a top alternative. From a list of 43 original alternatives, it eliminated as unworkable options such as light rail, a new bridge at Chester Street and high-occupancy lanes.

The design and supporting material from the planning stage will now be forwarded to a design team focusing a study mandated under the National Environmental Policy Act that will further refine the design.

"It's not final," said Danny Straessle, a spokesman for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department. "It's a suggestion of what could happen."

Indeed, the design won't be final until the contractor the department hires to complete the design and to construct the project gets a crack at it. Construction isn't scheduled to begin until 2018.

"We don't want to stifle the creativity and the experience the design-build team is going to bring," Straessle said. "This is what the working model is right now."

The latest design would displace 19 structures, including five homes, seven commercial properties and seven billboards.

At Thursday's meeting, the design team said it proposed the 10-lane configuration with the collector-distributor lanes as the top alternative because it offers the best mobility and safety performance through 2041 and its cost is only slightly higher than a 10-lane configuration with general lanes only.

Its environmental impact is about the same as the other two alternatives considered, which also included an 8-lane scheme, according to the team.

The design team said the collector-distributor lane, particularly through the downtown section, allowed for better and safer access from neighborhoods. The top speed on the collector-distributor lanes is 50 mph, well below the 60 mph speed limit in the main lanes.

A motorist in North Little Rock could get onto I-30 at East Broadway, cross the river and exit at East Third Street in Little Rock without getting onto the main lanes.

"They don't have to worry about weaving vehicles if you are a through vehicle," said Kip Strauss, an engineer with HNTB of Kansas City and a member of the team.

The top alternative also would see fewer traffic crashes than the other two alternatives, he said. "It does cost more, but the safety benefits outweigh the additional costs."

The preliminary design also includes interchange improvements, the consolidation or relocation of some ramps, intersection improvements and frontage road improvements. It also contemplates better traffic signal management and improved signs as well the eventual use of a ramp-metering system, which uses traffic signals to space out vehicles entering the interstate at peak times.

The array of maps and posters at Thursday's meeting showcasing the progress of the project design produced a mixture of awe and worry among the people who showed up for the meeting.

"I think it's a great project," said Ray Roberts, a North Little Rock insurance and finance executive. "It's 20 years too late in coming."

"I'm not comfortable," said Belinda Burney, a longtime resident of North Little Rock's Dark Hollow community. "But it's still in the planning and nothing is set in stone."

But Jeff Hathaway, who serves on a I-30 corridor stakeholder committee representing the Greater Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, said the design team has struck a good balance so far.

"It's hard to do, but I think we're doing a good job of working with the community and addressing their concerns," he said, adding that the team has been trying to ensure the project "breaks down barriers rather than builds barriers."

Metro on 04/17/2015

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