Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Directors shrug off Marshall alternatives to 12-lane I-30

Posted By on Tue, May 17, 2016 at 9:24 PM

click to enlarge LANCE HINES: The West Little Rock city director (seen here in a 2014 file photo) dismissed Marshall's report. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • LANCE HINES: The West Little Rock city director (seen here in a 2014 file photo) dismissed Marshall's report.

As expected, City Directors Lance Hines, Dean Kumpuris and Gene Fortson treated consultant Norm Marshall's report tonight on the 30 Crossing plan to widen I-30 with mostly polite disbelief and occasional scorn. The board then voted to defer, for the fifth time, a resolution by Directors Kathy Webb and Ken Richardson that would call on the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department to consider alternatives to doubling the size of I-30 through downtown Little Rock.

Hines told Marshall that West Little Rock doesn't want traffic shifted "our way." Kumpuris said he couldn't see how Marshall's study —- replacing I-30 with a boulevard and diverting traffic to I-630, I-430 and a new bridge that would connect I-40 and I-630 via Pike Avenue and Chester Street — would not "kill downtown Little Rock." Fortson and Kumpuris called the plan "social engineering," to which Webb, who wants the city to plan its future instead of letting the Highway Department to do it, responded that if building a 12- to 15-lane freeway through downtown wasn't social engineering, she didn't know what was.

You know, references to social engineering, which are dog whistles for making folks do things they don't want to — like let women have the vote, let black and white people marry, integrating the public schools, same sex marriage — need to take a back seat to the discussion, guys.

Hines makes no bones that he is the AHTD's representative on the City Board, and said folks in West Little Rock lived happily with the construction of the new interchange at I-630 and I-430, to which some in the audience shouted, "No we don't!"

Kumpuris chastised Marshall for omitting information about public transportation in his report, saying, “You’re the expert on urban traffic, and I find it a little funny that there’s not a word you said today about public transit.”

Producing a report on the benefits of public transportation was not what the Arkansas Public Policy Panel hired Marshall to do. The scope of his study was to look at the AHTD modeling. Nor was it to come up with funding for the Chester Street bridge, another thing lacking in the report that Kumpuris seemed dumbfounded by. He asked Marshall to meet with Webb and others and produce a report that would show if such a bridge were feasible, if land could be purchased and if the county and its municipalities were on board. Webb responded to Kumpuris by noting the fact that a small group of people hired Marshall and didn't have the kind of money it would take to produce such a study.

Asked how it is possible that converting an interstate to a road that can't handle as much traffic wouldn't lead to disastrous backups on alternative routes — would it be "magic?" Hines asked — Marshall referred to examples included in his report, such as New York's decision to tear down the West Side Highway, now the Highline pedestrian attraction. 

Webb's amendment to her resolution — that the city should find the funds to implement the StudioMAIN park designs shown at the last 30 Crossing public hearing — drew directors up short, since they could not see how the city could guarantee them. Which was the point. The highway department used StudioMAIN to put lipstick on a pig. AHTD is not going to build a deck park or any other greenspace, or linking bike paths, or other amenities to ameliorate the swath of concrete it will pay for.

Arkansas Times intern Tom Coulter contributed to this report.

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