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Reevaluation filed on effect of I-30 project; previous findings remain ‘valid,’ document declares

by Noel Oman | June 4, 2020 at 7:23 a.m.
FILE - An Interstate 30 sign is shown in this 2019 file photo.

A Federal Highway Administration reevaluation of the environmental effects of the nearly $1 billion 30 Crossing project found that all previous findings "remain valid" and that the work has "no new or additional significant impacts" since its initial approval more than a year ago, according to the 68-page document filed in U.S. District Court.

The reevaluation of the project to improve the Interstate 30 corridor through downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock took place after parties in a lawsuit challenging the work won a pause in the litigation in December to determine whether the federally approved "finding of no significant impact" issued in February 2019 remained valid in light of a new project scope.

It came out in court papers that the Arkansas Department of Transportation decided to break the project into phases after the joint venture that will do the construction -- Kiewit Infrastructure South of Fort Worth and Massman Construction of Kansas City, Mo. -- said it would cost about $1 billion to build as originally envisioned.

The department initially had said $931.7 million was available for the project.

[DOCUMENT: 30 Crossing project reevaluation report »]

The entire project -- at nearly $1 billion -- would be built if voters approve in November making permanent a o.5% statewide sales tax that is used to pay for road and bridge construction. It will have been in place 10 years when it expires in 2023.

In April, plaintiffs in the lawsuit, a coalition of Little Rock neighborhood groups, asked U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr. to order the defendants, the state Transportation Department and the Federal Highway Administration, to produce an accounting of their work.

The request came after the Transportation Department formally asked Metroplan, an association of governments in Central Arkansas that provides long-range planning for the region, to add $350 million in funding raising the price tag to $981.7 million.

Moody gave the defendants until Monday, which was when the reevaluation was filed.

The document, prepared by Randal Looney, an environmental coordinator in the Federal Highway Administration's Arkansas Division, gave the project a green light to proceed to construction, scheduled for later this year.

"After a thorough review and reconsideration of these documents based on additional environmental studies and approvals, [the administration] determines that all previous finding and decisions remain valid and that no new or additional significant impacts will result from the project," Looney wrote. "Based on this determination, the subject project may continue to proceed."

The project, the planning of which began six years ago, is the most expensive that the department has undertaken.

It focuses on improving the congested corridor through downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock, an area that features the convergence of six major roadways in the space of less than seven miles.

The project includes the I-30 bridge over the Arkansas River, which dates to the late 1950s and was built at a cost of $5.5 million. About 124,000 vehicles a day use the six-lane bridge. It will still be replaced under the proposed new scope for the project.

Replacing the bridge remains the "centerpiece," according to department officials.

The corridor extends from Interstate 530 in Little Rock to Interstate 40 in North Little Rock.

The reevaluation report is divided into nine chapters. The most extensive one is Chapter 7, which covers the environmental impacts and is divided into 16 sections.

Impacts include the Rock Region Metro streetcar system. It will endure temporary closures, including the shutdown of the line extending to the Clinton Presidential Center for 41 months.

The Transportation Department intends to help pay to replace the streetcar infrastructure in exchange for Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County assuming maintenance responsibility for "certain roadways on the state highway system for a period of time on behalf" of Rock Region, according to the document.

But Looney said the temporary closing of the streetcar system is "not considered to be a significant environmental impact."

Revisions to the design since the February approval has reduced effects on streams in the Dark Hollow area and will reduce flood plain impacts, according to the document.

Impacts on wetlands also has been reduced, going from 6.6 acres of permanent impacts to 0.5 acre of permanent impacts.

The report also discussed revised traffic modeling based on slower population growth in the Little Rock metropolitan area and based on construction being completed in 2025 rather than 2021 as originally planned.

At the I-30 bridge, traffic volume will be 167,000 vehicles daily in 2045, which is the design year, rather than 182,000 vehicles daily. The bridge now carries 130,000 vehicles daily.

The corridor already is congested, especially at peak times, and congestion will continue to deteriorate if nothing is done even with the smaller projected traffic volumes, the report said.

One result of the lower projected traffic volumes is that emission estimates will be lower.

"Consequently, the project will continue to have no adverse effect on air quality," the report said.

Metro on 06/04/2020

Print Headline: Reevaluation filed on effect of I-30 project


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