A final public meeting on plans to expand a 6.7 mile stretch of Interstate 30 in Little Rock took place Thursday evening in North Little Rock. The Arkansas Department of Transportation presented an environmental assessment on the project, which would run through the downtowns of Little Rock and North Little Rock.
The environmental assessment is a nearly 4,000 page report on the proposal to expand I-30 to 10 lanes. Department spokesman Danny Straessle says the $630 million project is necessary to fix unsafe ramps downtown.
“If you try to get on to I-30 from any of the downtown side streets, you really have to gun it because you don’t have too much of an acceleration opportunity,” he said.
Tom Fennell is a local architect who is opposed to the expansion and has suggested models for the project that he says haven’t been seriously considered. Fennell is worried the expansion will create more traffic and discourage carpools or a shift to public transit.
“They basically started with a freeway expansion, and they’re supposed to look at alternatives, but they didn’t really look at any alternatives except massive expansion of the freeway,” said Fennell.
Buckley O’Mell, vice president of advocacy with the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, says his group supports the plan because it will take traffic out of downtown. He says moving the on and off ramps will shift traffic heading to west Little Rock out of the River Market area.
“It increases the livability factor by removing traffic for downtown that wasn’t destined for downtown and also makes it easier to get around downtown,” said O’Mell.
He says moving those ramps will also create the possibility for acres of new parks in Little Rock. But other downtown advocates aren’t so sure.
According to Quapaw Quarter Association Director Patricia Blick, her group is glad some of their suggestions have made it into the plan, but they’re still worried that the project will require an expansion of Interstate 630 in future years. That could mean buildings will be demolished or more drivers will be on the roads.
“We don’t want to see historical buildings lost. We don’t want to see them destroyed, but we also don’t want to see the degradation of the historic district. The environment is so attractive to people. Folks aren’t going to want to be there. They’re not going to want to live there. They’re not going to want to work there,” she said.
The Arkansas Department of Transportation says it will seek public input online for several more weeks. But according to Straessle, that input won’t radically change the department’s course.
“This is not a vote of the people whether or not this project should go forward,” Straessle said. “What we’re soliciting from the people is, how will this project impact you? What benefit will it give you in your commute? What negative benefits are there?”
Highway officials must now submit the environmental assessment for federal approval of the project.
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