The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department will unveil four alternatives of what the Interstate 30 corridor through downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock might eventually look like at Tuesday's sixth public meeting on the $631.7 million project.
The material available for review and comment will include 3-D renderings of the alternatives, 3-D animated graphics showing how traffic would move through the options, and other data that agency officials say are the latest available.
Ben Browning, the design/build director for the department, called Tuesday's meeting at the Wyndham Hotel in North Little Rock "very critical" to the future course of the project. The meeting will run from 5-8 p.m., with a presentation at 5:15 p.m.
"There are lots going on in the project," he said. "We are constantly trying to revise it as we get comments back, as we meet with lots of different people and the different jurisdictions that are impacted by the project and deal with the project. We are trying to make modifications to the project that will bring all of that together and come up with a compromise that works for everybody."
Browning made the comments at a meeting Wednesday of the Regional Planning Advisory Council, an arm of Metroplan, the long-range transportation planning agency for central Arkansas.
The council is composed of volunteers from around the region. It is primarily responsible for developing the region's long-range transportation plans, the latest of which is called Imagine Central Arkansas. It also makes recommendation to the Metroplan board of directors, composed of the region's mayors and county judges. The recommendations are nonbinding on the board.
The council likely will receive the final I-30 corridor plan by the end of the year or early next year to consider whether to recommend it to the board for a vote, Browning said. Board approval is required before the I-30 corridor project can move to construction, likely in 2018.
The alternatives now include two versions of what the department now calls the "6-lane with collector/distributor lanes" option. It used to be known as the 10-lane alternative, but department officials say the new name was adopted "to better clarify the scope of the alternative and reduce misconception."
"It's the same alternative, but it's just believed by the stakeholders that it better describes the scope of the project," Browning said.
The Highway Department has said it will still seek an exception for the project from a regionwide policy limiting freeways to six lanes.
One version of the "6-lane with collector/distributor lanes" alternative features a single-point interchange to replace the current the interchange with Arkansas 10/Cantrell Road. The other alternative eliminates the Arkansas 10 interchange and creates a new interchange between East Fourth and East Ninth streets using a split-diamond design.
The other two alternatives that will be on display are the two interchange options on an eight-lane alternative in which all eight lanes are main lanes.
A fifth alternative, to build nothing, remains an option, Browning said.
The 3-D renderings and animation will focus on the downtown Little Rock part of the corridor because that's the section of the project for which the department has received the most comment and interest, he said.
The options that will be reviewed at the public meeting represent the best available alternatives that meet the five purposes and needs identified for the project, Browning said. They are reducing congestion, increasing safety, addressing pavement deficiencies, addressing deficiencies in the bridge over the Arkansas River and improving navigation in the river for barge traffic.
Browning said some congestion will remain in the corridor, adding that the project isn't just driven by reducing congestion.
"Mobility is not the only problem in that corridor," he said.
Which is why, Browning added, alternatives preferred by some won't work. Some council members expressed frustration that they knew little about the reasons why the department quickly eliminated other options, such as replacing the bridge and leaving the corridor as six lanes while building a bridge across the river at Chester Street to take pressure off the corridor.
But Browning said that even if the corridor wasn't widened, the project would still need to replace the pavement, now 60 years old, and the bridge, which is also 60 years old. Those costs are substantial enough that it would preclude having enough money to build a new bridge at Chester, he said.
And he said no traffic studies he's seen have shown that the addition of a bridge at Chester would remove enough traffic from the I-30 corridor to warrant construction of such a bridge.
Concerns associated with maintaining traffic also were a factor in eliminating the six-lane alternative, according to Browning. Because it doesn't add capacity, it would be difficult to maintain traffic while the corridor is improved. Replacing the I-30 bridge without adding capacity also means the bridge would be closed during construction, he added.
Further, Browning said, it would be cost-prohibitive to develop other alternatives to the degree of detail that will be shown Tuesday. "There is no way you could take every option to this level," he said.
The corridor project was developed only because of voter approval of the half-percent, statewide sales tax in 2012, Browning said. With the proceeds, the department developed the $1.8 billion Connecting Arkansas Program, a series of regionally significant projects around the state, the most expensive of which is the I-30 corridor project.
Without the Connecting Arkansas Program, improvement of the corridor would have been divided into four or five projects that together would've lasted 20 years. The I-30 project, as projected now, will begin in 2018 and be completed in 2022, he said,
"We've never had that funding capability before," Browning said.
The half-percent sales tax dedicated to road construction is to expire in 2023. The department is under no obligation to spend the money by 2023 but has made that commitment. If the I-30 corridor project is delayed, the department is committed to spending the money somewhere else.
At the least, the bridge will eventually be replaced, but its replacement will be as a separate project for which other money will have to be found, Browning said.
Metro on 04/21/2016