Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Metroplan advisers put off vote on AHTD's request for 6-lane waiver: Update

Posted By on Wed, Jul 20, 2016 at 4:09 PM

click to enlarge Susan Chambers, "Induced demand"
  • Susan Chambers, "Induced demand"
The council that advises Metroplan's board of directors voted today to wait until a 30-day public comment period has passed before deciding whether to grant the state highway department a waiver of the planning agency's six-lane limit on freeway through lanes. The panel, the Regional Planning Advisory Council, will meet Aug. 24 to consider the waiver. That is the day after the public comment period, which runs July 24 to Aug. 23. 

Most of RPAC's members are opposed to the Arkansas Highway and Transportation's widening plan, which would replace the I-30 bridge and widen the road to between 10 and 14 lanes. Only one member of the council, realtor Jeff Hathaway, who is also the chairman of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, spoke for the waiver, though he noted that his "viewpoint was in the distinct minority." He also took issue with an earlier statement by architect Tom Fennell that businesses don't want to locate next to an interstate, saying the revival of downtown was evidence that they do.  

Metroplan Executive Director Jim McKenzie set the stage for the presentation by reviewing Metroplan policy and what is required of AHTD before requesting a waiver. That included the preparation of a test of the six-lane cap, by both Metroplan and AHTD, on an enhanced I-30 that would include a new bridge, operational improvements to remove bottlenecks at interchanges, adjust access points to meet current highway design standards (exits are too close together now) and maintain the six-lane cap to the extent possible. 

Read Metroplan's statement on the request here.
Metroplan engineer Casey Covington presented his version of an enhanced plan (to be posted here later), which would include working to resolve bottlenecks at interstate connections south of the river. The plan would not be perfect, Covington said; designs to improve access from the south would create a cascade of bottlenecks north of the river. (His scenario did not anticipate other arterial improvements to lessen traffic, since the AHTD ruled them out during the PEL process.)

See Covington's enhanced six-lane presentation here.
Highway engineer Ben Browning offered what he called a "10,000-foot" birds-eye view of an enhanced six-lane. He said I-30, which intersects with I-40, I-440, I-530 and I-630 and has several exits into Little Rock and North Little Rock along its 7-mile stretch, would have to swell to 5 lanes in several places northbound to keep the traffic "balanced." (He addressed only the northbound traffic, but said southbound would be much the same; hence a 10-lane road.) He also pointed to the traffic snarl that would result during construction, since the I-30 bridge, which the project will replace, cannot be partially dismantled but must be demolished totally.

The stretch is so complicated in fact, Browning said, that it could be considered one big interchange rather than a corridor, and what would constitute at through lane could be a matter of opinion. 

See Browning's six-lane enhanced presentation here.
Other than Hathaway's expressed approval, the highway department got little love today from panelists and the speakers from the public. As representatives from the Federal Highway Administration in town for a regular review of Metroplan's transportation planning listened, economist Dale Pekar said the AHTD's process had been an "insult to the people of Central Arkansas."

"What set me off," Pekar told the council, is AHTD's statement "that if Metroplan does not agree, [AHTD] will do nothing" to address the road needs in central Arkansas. (The highway department has said that it will use tax dollars set aside for the Pulaski County project, known as 30 Crossing, elsewhere.) That position is "reprehensible," Pekar said. He also criticized the road agency for what he said were errors in its economic benefit analysis and violations of National Environmental Policy Act in its methodology.

"The largest issue is this: The state has broken the do-right rule," Kathy Wells of the Coalition of Little Rock Neighborhoods told the council, by rushing a taxpayer-funded project that outside experts have concluded could fail to achieve its goals.  

Architect Fennell said I-30 was "ill-conceived to begin with" and the notion that making the highway wider would be a good thing was outdated. He said a boulevard plan he helped design with input from an independent consultant "will perform better in 20 years" than widening the interstate in achieving economic goals, and would put Little Rock on the map as a progressive city.

"The policy board will OK what the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department wants," Fennell said of Metroplan directors. "It's up to you to send a clear message that Little Rock can be better."

On the jump, read retired Texas transportation consultant John Hedrick's stinging criticism of the project he provided the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration and posted on Facebook. He also read the statement aloud today to RPAC.

John Hedrick

Here are my comments to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) at the federal certification of the region's transporation planning process meeting held at Metroplan July 19, 2016:Federal Certification 6/19/16

I thank FHWA and FTA for the opportunity to comment

I am John O. Hedrick, . . . , LR. I moved to Little Rock a little over one year ago after retiring from a fifty year career in transportation in the private sector and in the public sector at the local, regional and state department of transportation levels. With no ties to Little Rock, my wife and I moved here for Little Rock's ambiance and amenities. With my interest in transportation, I have been actively observing the region's transportation planning.

Rock Region METRO has a good plan for the future and is led by able staff. Unfortunately, its plan for dedicated funding failed at the polls, but it will be back. I thank FTA for its support of Rock Region METRO and Metroplan for its cooperation and support.

Metroplan has a well vetted regional transportation plan—Imagine Central Arkansas—that is a comprehensive, multimodal plan emboding the principles of 3C—Comprehensive, Cooperative, and Continuing. Metroplan staff does an admirable job and keeps the public informed. Having served on the advisory councils of 3 MPOs including that of the Dallas – Fort Worth metroplex, I can state that Metroplan's RPAC consists of individuals that do their homework and actively participate in the meetings. Metroplan is serving the region well and deserves the ongoing support of FHWA and FTA.

Regarding the other transportation agency—the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department—I see a disregard of the 3C approach. I have been attending 30 Crossing meetings for about a year now. It is clear to me that the Highway Department is intent on cramming down its minimum of 10 lanes 30 Crossing project. Other options are rejected out of hand or dismissed with half-truths. A Chester Street bridge option was questioned by many, but it is dismissed as this is not a state highway. A Cooperative approach could make it a state highway. Other suggestions are dismissed as being considered in the PEL process and rejected. The AHTD's PEL process was not Comprehensive. Each option, be it transit, a new bridge or route, was considered in isolation. The highway department did not take a comprehensive approach to consider what combination of options would deliver the best value for nearly $700 million. Although I am encouraged by speeches by USDOT Secretary Foxx, who states that interstate highways have destroyed neighborhoods and divided cities, AHTD has a myopic vision of enlarging a great paved divide in downtown Little Rock. While separate consultants hired by the city of Little Rock and a citizens group as well as Metroplan and individual citizens have shown major flaws in the highway department's analysis, I offer an example of their lack of cooperation and total arrogance. AHTD Director Bennett sent a letter on June 17, 2016, to the President of the Metroplan Board of Directors asking for “an amendment to Imagine Central Arkansas at the June Board meeting that would repeal” the six-lane freeway widening restriction. Imagine Central Arkansas, including the six-lane freeway restriction, was developed over a period of time with major stakeholder and public input before its adoption. The highway department asks that a major component of the region's comprehensive transportation plan be thrown out just 12 days prior to the board meeting on June 29 at which they want the policy amendment. If this isn't a public be damned attitude, I don't know what is. AHTD's approach certainly is not Comprehensive, Cooperative, and Continuing—it is: our way or the highway or rather our way is the highway.

I respectfully request that FHWA keep the 3C process at the forefront in considering AHTD's request for a FONSI for 30 Crossing. Given the major flaws in AHTD's analysis and its disregard for the 3C process, I pray that FHWA requires a complete Environmental Impact Statement for the 30 Crossing project.

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