Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Is I-30 project unconstitutional? It's a theory, anyway

Posted By on Wed, Oct 28, 2015 at 12:27 PM

NO FOUR-LANE: I-30 already has six lanes. Is it covered by the amendment providing the money. - MOVE ARKANSAS
  • Move Arkansas
  • NO FOUR-LANE: I-30 already has six lanes. Is it covered by the amendment providing the money.

I think a searching look at the adequacy of the environmental impact statement for the Interstate 30 expansion project is likely the best legal approach to delaying the project until it can be made more sustainable for all concerned, but Tim McKuin at the Move Arkansas blog offers another theory:

He asks if the project is unconstitutional under the state amendment that provided money from a half-cent sales tax for this and other highway projects in Arkansas.

Highway people say they have no choice but to do this freeway project because it was on a list circulated before the vote on the amendment, which dedicated a sales tax to the work. However, the amendment itself isn't specific about the projects, or even whether the money must be spent solely on widening a freeway and replacing a bridge and not on other modes of transportation (feet, bikes, mass transit).

In short, the amendment says it provides money to build and improve "four-lane highways." Interstate 30 is already a six-lane highway and the Highway Department wants to make it as wide as 10 lanes. Does the amendment even apply to this project?  That's the question McKuin raises.

I'm sure the state would argue otherwise, though the many references and definitions of four-lane highway will require some language gymnastics. I'm also skeptical of a state court challenge simply because, ultimately, a big business-controlled Supreme Court will make the decision. An environmental challenge would go to federal court. And while the justices work periodically in Little Rock and sometimes even buy a home here, not a single one of them was elected as a true resident of Little Rock and many might well share the negative view Highway Director Scott Bennett has expressed about Little Rock. (He lives in Bryant.) Writes McKuin:

Instead of maximizing funding to those four-lane highways as the voters demanded, the biggest chunk of everyone's money is getting dumped into one of the most expensive construction jobs in AHTD's history in a city that's been served by multiple interstates for decades. This single 7 mile stretch of highway enlargement will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 million [editor's note: this estimate ranges up to $750 million, but rises to $4 billion in Metroplan's estimate when you add maintenance], or about 1/3 of the Connecting Arkansas Program's total 10-year budget.

Interestingly, whoever wrote the copy for the Overview section of the Connecting Arkansas Program website conveniently left off the 'four-lane' modifier when describing the types of highways the amendment is supposed to fund:

Maybe that was just a simple oversight.

So what's next? If some taxpayer in the state of Arkansas would file a complaint in the Circuit Court of Pulaski County we might quickly find out if 'four-lane highway' means a 'highway with four lanes' or something wider. Who's up?

Another log on the fire, anyway. And it's indicative of the thought a wide range of lawyers, planners, engineers, bicyclists, urban transit experts and plain ol' Little Rock citizens are suddenly giving to this project. Will the Highway Department give its usual response — "sorry, it's our way in the final analysis." Or could a unified resistance bring positive change? It would be a first if the department starts acknowledging multi-modal transportation voluntarily. But other cities, even Dallas, seem to be able to do it. Why not Little Rock?

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