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story.lead_photo.caption Map showing the location of the Interstate 30 corridor project. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / SOURCE: Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department )

Transforming the Interstate 30 corridor through downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock into a tree-lined boulevard has "aesthetic benefits" but would worsen "safety and mobility" within the corridor, the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department said.

The department's first in-depth comments about the merits of a proposal by Little Rock architect Tom Fennell came in an online page called "Know the Facts: I-30" that answers a series of frequently asked questions about the project to reduce congestion and improve safety in the 6.7-mile corridor, including replacing the I-30 bridge over the Arkansas River.

The page provides a more detailed cost for the project -- $630.7 million -- and disputes that widening the corridor to 10 lanes, as the department is considering, would attract more traffic and eventually require all connecting freeways to be widened at a cost of $4 billion.

The answers to those and other questions are part of "a continuing effort to educate the public on a myriad of facts surrounding the proposed 30 Crossing project," the agency said in a news release. "A number of incorrect assumptions within the public domain propagated by blogs, neighborhood groups and stakeholders has prompted development of the FAQ."

Fennell's proposal includes ideas that opponents of the department's proposal have discussed. The department is evaluating 10-lane and eight-lane alternatives for the six-lane corridor between Interstate 530 on the south and Interstate 40 to the north.

Another meeting to invite the public to comment on the alternatives that was scheduled for Tuesday has been delayed, according to the page, to give project engineers time to evaluate a request from Little Rock city officials and stakeholders to shift downtown access farther south from the existing Cantrell Road interchange to the "downtown grid" between East Fourth and East Ninth streets. Once the evaluation is completed, a new date for the meeting will be set, the department said.

Fennell wants to see the corridor redeveloped as an "at-grade" boulevard with stop lights and styles it as an effort to slow traffic down and make it more friendly for pedestrians and cyclists. The proposal would restructure the I-30/Interstate-630 interchange, rebrand Interstate 440 as the new I-30, and add a new Arkansas River crossing on the west side of downtown.

The department frames the question this way: "Would converting I-30 to a boulevard improve traffic flow downtown and be more pedestrian and bicycle friendly?"

In a word, the answer is "no," according to the department.

Using vehicle miles traveled data from Metroplan, the department said in its response that if I-30 were converted to a boulevard, the corridor "couldn't host even half the capacity per lane currently needed. A boulevard would create even worse delays than are currently experienced in the corridor."

The department's response said spending public money requires an engineering analysis supporting "capacity decisions" to have a "high likelihood of the final product being successful.

"To date, no traffic analysis has shown how a boulevard could function with both existing and future traffic estimates, including what routes the current 115,000 -- 125,000 vehicles traveling through the I-30 corridor daily would take in order to get to their downtown destinations."

The department also asserted that the boulevard proposal would offer less safety and less mobility for pedestrians, cyclists and transit.

"To attempt to protect pedestrians and bicyclists from this at-grade conflict across a very wide 6-lane boulevard, lengthy pedestrian phases would have to be added to the traffic lights which would result in greater congestion not only in the corridor but also in the downtown grid," according to the agency.

"Pedestrians will also be less likely to cross the corridor because of the risk of crossing at-grade and the wait time associated with the traffic signal timing. Adding dedicated transit lanes will also complicate the signal phasing and cause further delay on the corridor for both vehicles and pedestrians."

Fennell has said his proposal anticipates cultural trends that show younger people driving less and, would result in overbuilding capacity if the department proceeds to widen the corridor to 10 lanes.

But the department, citing Federal Highway Administration data, said that nationally vehicle miles traveled is at an all-time high. In Arkansas, vehicle miles traveled was 2.9 percent higher in November 2015 than it was at the same time a year earlier. The agency also cites Metroplan data showing that vehicle miles traveled in the region is expected to rise 30 percent between 2010 and 2040 "even if I-30 is not improved," thanks in part to the population growing by 220,000 people by 2040.

Ultimately, the boulevard is unworkable, the department said.

"Travel patterns on this corridor have been established over time as a result of how Little Rock and North Little Rock have developed," according to the agency. "Dramatic changes in these traffic patterns cannot be made in a short amount of time unless other corridors are able to handle the excess volume of traffic without having significant impacts on businesses, housing patterns, and the general economic vitality of the region.

"I-440 isn't an option for drivers coming from all directions to access locations downtown. If they do use it as an alternate route, it can add significant time and distance to their commute to work or travel to the airport."

Fennell said he was heartened that the department has responded to his proposal.

"I'm thrilled they are answering their questions publicly," he said.

But he said he was disappointed that they are not looking beyond the "next five years." Fennell also expressed disappointment in the highway department's criticism of the boulevard proposal regarding pedestrian, bicycling and transit mobility, noting that European cities, as well as Vancouver, British Columbia, among other places, safely integrate them into traffic on wide boulevards.

"Let's all have the best possible answers," he said. The ultimate solution involves "everybody, not just the cars and trucks."

The department page also addresses assertions by Metroplan that widening I-30 will require all connecting freeways to be widened at an estimated cost of $4 billion. Metroplan is the long-range transportation planning agency for central Arkansas.

The estimate was based on assumptions that the department said is inconsistent with its standard planning processes. "Metroplan developed this estimate on the assumption that if the department's planning process results in a recommendation to widen I-30 then the same planning result applies to every interstate in the region, resulting in the their widening to 8 to 10 lanes," the agency said.

The planning looks at many factors, such as safety, congestion, cost and environmental impacts, the department said. Further, each corridor has different constraints and challenges that can result in recommendations other than widening.

Unique to the I-30 corridor, the department said, was the existing department right of way that made widening a reasonable option. The agency property provided "ample room for widening without requiring expensive and environmentally challenging purchases of additional property," the department said.

Additionally, two areas outside the corridor being studied for future improvements -- I-30 between I-530 and West 65th Street and I-630 from I-30 west past Louisiana Street -- "were already planned or in progress due to existing deficiencies in the corridors," the department said.

Jim McKenzie, the executive director of Metroplan, said the department still has yet to look at the effects the project will have beyond addressing congestion, including how an improved corridor will attract more traffic, require more asphalt for parking and thus create more impervious land that will have an effect on the environment.

"If they had presented us with the questions, the answers would've been different," McKenzie said.

The department called the online page a "living document" and said "more answers will be added as questions are identified." The document and other information about the project can be found online at 30crossing.com.

Metro on 02/22/2016

Print Headline: State officials say no to I-30 as boulevard

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Archived Comments

  • RBear
    February 22, 2016 at 6:05 a.m.

    I agree that the boulevard idea is not a feasible approach as an alternative to 30 Crossing. There are so many transportation infrastructure components missing from Little Rock and Central Arkansas needed to support such an approach. It looks neat and someday might be feasible. But Pulaski County must prove it is serious about public transit, especially with a win in the upcoming Rock Region Metro funding vote, before such a venture can be considered. Just like some of the opposition see AHTD's solutions as lacking holistic vision, so are the approaches provided by the opposition. There is not a cohesive message of complete transportation solutions by that group. Pull it together and you might sell me on your approach.

  • drs01
    February 22, 2016 at 8:14 a.m.

    I hope the AHTD will follow the money before reaching a decision on the I-30 corridor.
    If they do, they will see that those who are hell-bent to re-create downtown Little Rock are the most vocal. The developers, whatabe developers, Downtown Partnership, Chamber, Convention Bureau and even the city board and Mayor.
    This project IS AN INTERSTATE HIGHWAY, not a local potholed city street. Unfortunately, it is filled intrastate commuters who retreat to the suburbs after working in the city. They deserve a voice, even greater than those who feel only they have the "vision for Little Rock" If these so-called visionaries would work on solutions to keep jobs and the people who fill them in the Metroplex, then we'd have some real progress. But we don't. So, let the AHTD do their job...do what is best for ALL our citizens.

  • RBBrittain
    February 22, 2016 at 9:16 a.m.

    I agree with RBear. It would be nice to have more non-auto options (I've already voted absentee for the Rock Region Metro tax), but you can't use that as an excuse to block current auto traffic needs. Nothing short of a freeway will work in the 30 Crossing area, and even if other options become popular it will take *more* than five years to undo over five DECADES of traffic patterns that focus STATEWIDE traffic to & from LR/NLR on 30 Crossing. And yes, as a statewide agency AHTD must consider the needs of Cabot, Conway & Bryant commuters to & from downtown just as much as (if not even more than) those living downtown.

  • JGP
    February 22, 2016 at 9:30 a.m.

    The Boulevard idea was a very utopian and relatively silly idea from the beginning. I would personally like to see a flyover to La Harpe that was once considered rather than a complete remaking of the interchanges. I also would like to see them more seriously consider a double deck freeway like Austin has on I-35 in the downtown area where traffic that is passing through can stay on the upper deck and "local" traffic can pass through on the lower deck. I know that too was a consideration at some point.

  • Smoky12
    February 22, 2016 at 9:31 a.m.

    isn't it about time we started to think about mass transit for commuters, (I. e. trains, subways)? If our downtown has become so congested then maybe the money spent on improving roadways would be better spent on something that would decrease the number of autos on the highway for commuters?

  • mhck52
    February 22, 2016 at 9:40 a.m.

    Am I the only one who noticed they didn't address converting 440 to I-30 for through traffic only. All they said was it makes getting to downtown harder. Duh! Either someone is missing the point or they think we're stupid.

  • RBBrittain
    February 22, 2016 at 10:06 a.m.

    Metroplan and 30 Crossing opponents don't realize that current freeway construction standards call for BOTH extra ramp lanes AND extended merge zones in freeway-to-freeway interchanges to handle high volumes of traffic using ramps to move between freeways AND merge with traffic already on the freeway. For example, the merge from 440 onto 67 North towards Jacksonville already extends north all the way to Redmond Road, and will only be expanded as the 6-lane 67 is extended into Jacksonville. Also, the current abrupt merges on 630 East leaving Big Rock are temporary; the main reason for widening 630 between Big Rock & University is to give eastbound traffic plenty of room to merge into the three eastbound lanes continuing downtown, as well as for westbound traffic to get into the proper lanes to prepare for Big Rock (the current temporary westbound pattern favors 430 South at the expense of 430 North & Chenal).

    Much of the seemingly excess capacity of 30 Crossing is dictated by two factors: (a) Many freeways feeding to it have already been widened to beyond 30 Crossing's own capacity, especially 67 whose 6 lanes at McCain is currently reduced to 4 at the 40 split and then further limited by the weave zone on 40 between 30 & 67; with 30 Crossing those 6 lanes will continue unimpeded to downtown. (b) 30 Crossing's close spacing between major interchanges -- especially freeway-to-freeway (67, North Terminal, 630, South Terminal), but also including Broadway in NLR and whatever replaces Cantrell-Clinton -- means there's barely enough room to do proper lane shifts between interchanges, even after widening. That's why 30 Crossing needs 10 lanes; even 8 lanes will be tricky there, but it will NOT compel widening of other freeways beyond what's already being planned (630 from Louisiana to 30, 30 from South Terminal to 65th).

    I agree, however, that the absolute trickiest issue is how to accommodate LaHarpe/Cantrell traffic to & from 30 without choking the River Market & other nearby development. I've submitted my own idea to AHTD, but even that won't be easy.

  • 2531USMC
    February 22, 2016 at 10:07 a.m.

    I am believer in public transportation, it fills a vital roll in providing transportation for those who cannot drive themselves, regardless of the reason. But as to the rest of the people driving in the greater Little Rock area, they have shown that they aren't willing to give up their cars for now, or for that matter in the foreseeable future. Some of our visionaries would like to see the people use public transport just as big cites do. Or they have a more Utopian view of people bicycling to work and play. Problem is no one here really wants to go that route because they don't live in the downtown area, they either live on the west side of town, or commute into the downtown area from surrounding cities. Thinking that any of this will change in the next 10 years or so is doubtful. I have over 30 years experience driving in the greater Little Rock area as a service technician. And I can say first hand that every modernization improvement I have seen from the widening of I-30 from 2 to 3 lanes beginning in the late 70's, all the way to the Big Rock exchange, is that all of them are reacting to problems instead of heading them off. Always plan on needing a little bit more and plan a little further into the future. And keep it real, dreaming is one thing reality another.

  • RBBrittain
    February 22, 2016 at 10:29 a.m.

    @mhck52: First, the boulevard plan would have made the downtown commute from most NLR and much of Sherwood MUCH harder; 440 is NOT a reasonable alternative for those people. Second, 440 isn't reasonable for shoppers from LR headed to McCain Mall. Finally, most of the people for whom 440 *is* reasonable -- Dallas-Memphis truckers and 67 commuters from Jacksonville & beyond -- already use it, and those commuters have to share 30 Crossing south of downtown with SWLR, Benton & Pine Bluff commuters. 440 is *NOT* the panacea 30 Crossing opponents portray it to be; they're only looking at one group that already uses it.

  • mrcharles
    February 22, 2016 at 1:16 p.m.

    drs01, good thoughts. I would add like all big cities though, those who like to work in the cities that has to provide the infrastructure for them and then to retreat to their cubby holes who want just convenience for them are a little hypocritical. Yet you are so right on point about those "elites" who like to use the public $$$ to enhance their $$$$$ all the while claiming spend to help me but of course for the public good too.

    I always find reason, reasonable.

    And Po wants a subway so he can write on the walls.

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