A group of downtown Little Rock neighborhood groups and residents opposed to the 30 Crossing project have filed a notice to appeal a federal judge's denial of their bid to stop the nearly $1 billion project.
"We're going to see what the 8th Circuit has to say about it," their lead attorney, Richard Mays of Little Rock, said Monday, referring to the Court of Appeals in St. Louis that hears appeals from Arkansas federal courts.
They also asked U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr. to halt construction on the project while the appeal is heard by the 8th U.S. Circuit of Appeals in St. Louis.
The motion for the injunction must go before the district judge first before the appeals court will entertain a similar motion, Mays said.
"This is more form than anything else," he said. "Under the rules we're required to, or at least they suggest, we submit such a request to the district court before submitting one to the Court of Appeals. I am going through that process. I have no reason to believe the judge will grant it, but I am doing it to satisfy the requirement."
Rita Looney, chief counsel for the Arkansas Department of Transportation, said her side is aware of the motion and expects to file a response "within the next few days."
The downtown groups and residents, led by the Little Rock Downtown Neighborhood Association, are appealing Moody's Sept. 3 order denying their bid to immediately stop construction on the project until a more comprehensive review of the project's environmental impacts has been performed.
In a lawsuit filed last year, they said the environmental assessment the Transportation Department prepared was inadequate considering the scope and cost of the project to remake and widen the 6.7-mile corridor through downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock.
The project also includes replacing the bridge over the Arkansas River and improvements to a section of Interstate 40 between I-30 and U.S. 67 in North Little Rock.
The project is the most expensive that the state Transportation Department has undertaken, and with the convergence of six major roadways in the corridor, also the most complex. Planning for the project began in 2014.
Looney and lawyers for the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, which approved the environmental review done by state transportation officials, insisted their review amounted to taking a "hard look" at the project, which is what federal environmental rules require.
Moody agreed, concluding in a 19-page ruling that the plaintiffs' objections didn't rise to the level of requiring a preliminary injunction, which the U.S. Supreme Court has called an "extraordinary and drastic remedy."
"After considering all of the evidence and arguments presented by the parties, the court finds that all of the factors weigh in favor of the defendants and against the issuance of an injunction," the judge wrote.
Mays also said he will ask the appeals court later this week to consider the appeal on an expedited basis.
"That's not a short document," he said. "That's a document where you explain why you want an expedited appeal and what your basis under the law is, what your claims are and so forth."