Highway litigation resuming midweek

Decision on I-30 witnesses looms

This June 2016 file photo shows an aerial view of the Interstate 30 corridor through downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette file photo)

A hearing on a bid to stop construction on the nearly $1 billion 30 Crossing project will resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday in federal court in Little Rock.

U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr. made the determination after conferring with attorneys in the case Friday morning, a day after attorneys for the Federal Highway Administration were granted a continuance.

Moody also set a final hearing on the lawsuit for Oct. 20, according to an online docket entry posted Friday.

The request to delay the hearing that began Thursday afternoon came when it was disclosed that one of the three attorneys had just learned of a "personal tragedy."

Their request came after three witnesses testified on behalf of a coalition of neighborhood groups seeking to stop work from beginning on the project to widen to 10 lanes in some places the 6.7-mile corridor through downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock, modernize the interchanges and replace the bridge over the Arkansas River.

They want the work stopped pending a more in-depth review of the environmental impacts the project would have on the surrounding neighborhoods. They say the defendants, the Federal Highway Administration and the Arkansas Department of Transportation, failed to take a "hard look" at a range of impacts as required by the National Environmental Protection Act.

The defendants say the review, which took six years and resulted in an environmental assessment document exceeding 7,000 pages plus 18 appendices, exceeded the requirements under the act.

When the hearing resumes, Moody said he will announce a decision on whether the plaintiffs' lead attorney, Richard Mays of Little Rock, may call two expert witnesses in an effort to expose the review's shortcomings.

The witnesses are John Kirk, a history professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock who specializes in the civil rights movement, and Casey Covington, the deputy director of Metroplan, the long-range transportation planning agency for Central Arkansas.

Mays said he wanted Kirk for his expertise on Little Rock's troubled racial history that includes the racial and economic divides created by the construction of Interstate 30 and I-630 and how widening I-30 would exacerbate the divide, and Covington for his expertise on computer traffic modeling.

The defendants oppose taking their testimony because they say it would amount to supplementing the administrative record when legal precedent requires the presiding judge to consider the already ample record.