Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Questions raised about cost-benefit estimate on Interstate 30 project

Posted By on Tue, Nov 3, 2015 at 7:24 AM

click to enlarge TOO SIMPLE: So says a blog of the state's analysis of cost and benefits of the I-30 project. - MOVEARKANSAS
  • MoveArkansas
  • TOO SIMPLE: So says a blog of the state's analysis of cost and benefits of the I-30 project.
MoveArkansas, a blog that focuses on urban planning and design, has raised questions about the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department's cost-benefit analysis for the $600 million Interstate 30 expansion project through downtown Little Rock.

An article by Tim McKuin, who works in urban planning professionally, says the department's analysis is flawed in several ways and produces a greater benefit ratio than it should. You can read his analysis here. I'm not able to judge the accuracy of the mathematical computations he presents. The numbers were drawn from the application the state submitted for $200 million in federal TIGER funding, an application that was not among those approved by the government last week.

I did run McKuin's argument past another engineer. He's not ready to say there was any intentional effort to mislead, but he pointed out some simple things. For example, if the project puts more cars driving more miles through town, this likely carries some disbenefits as well as benefits — operating costs of vehicles and more accidents, to name two.

More elemental, the engineer said, is the question of benefit from faster drive time. That is a social benefit, to be sure. But is it an economic benefit to get home 8 minutes sooner? And, he says, if social benefits are to be included (and they are in the analysis done by the Highway Department) then there are disbenefits to be considered — new obstacles to pedestrians, bikes and buses; harder routes to reach new developments on the east side of Little Rock. Also, if more more miles are driven, won't there be more smog? Is there no cost to air and water quality from more concrete, more exhaust emissions, more noise and the like? And what about time lost and other severe dislocation during four to five years of construction?

These questions would be well put at tonight's City Board meeting with the Highway Department, along with the agency's plans for replacing the $200 million in TIGER money. If the state is to push ahead, some more intensive cost-benefit studies should be in order.

Another transportation professional, a Little Rock native, writes also to raise another political consideration — the fact that about a third of the bonded highway program supported by a statewide sales tax is dedicated to widening I-30 through Little Rock.This has a direct impact on other desired projects in other parts of the state.

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