Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Metroplan advisory panel says no to waiver of six-lane limit

Posted By on Wed, Aug 24, 2016 at 3:27 PM

click to enlarge ROCK REGION METRO'S BECCA GREEN: "You can't presume cars will be the preferred choice of transportation 20 years from now."
  • ROCK REGION METRO'S BECCA GREEN: "You can't presume cars will be the preferred choice of transportation 20 years from now."
By a vote of 20-3, Metroplan's Regional Planning Advisory Committee  Council today voted against lifting the Central Arkansas transportation plan's limit of six through-lanes on interstates to accommodate the state highway department's plan to widen Interstate 30.

The RPAC vote was contrary to the Metroplan staff's recommendation, which was to lift the cap on the section of I-30 between its north and south terminal interchanges as "the first step for achieving the goals of system efficiency, interchange improvements, and safety improvements as identified in the adopted [Imagine Central Arkansas] Plan. ... The waiver allows for more creative solutions within the corridor to be fully considered." However, the staff said the recommendation to allow the waiver was not an endorsement of any of the four highway widening proposals made by the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department. "There remains significant concern about the system impacts of a significant widening in the corridor and those impacts' effect on the financially constrained long-range transportation plan, which have yet to be determined," the staff recommendation said.

A few members of the RPAC expressed unhappiness with the staff recommendation and public comment on the waiver was more negative than positive, CARTS Study Director Casey Covington said. Of the 260 comments on whether the six-lane cap should be lifted, received between July 24 and Aug. 23, 147 were against it, 106 favored removal of the cap and seven simply expressed concerns. 

The nay vote, which followed a failed vote on allowing the waiver on a motion by Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Hathaway, was expected. RPAC members have repeatedly said that they do not believe all alternatives to an improved, but six-lane, highway have been explored, expressed fears that approving a waiver will give the AHTD unfettered leeway to build whatever it wants through downtown Little Rock and predicted that the project will require costly widening of the highways linking to I-30. Connie Coreen Frasier, a representative of Bicycle Advocacy of Central Arkansas, said the $637 million price tag for the seven-mile project was too much, and the money could be spent better on other things.

Becca Green, representing Rock Region METRO, said the AHTD plan would set back public transportation in Central Arkansas. Reading from a prepared statement, Green said that highway Director Scott Bennett's claim in a letter to RPAC that the "voting public" does not support public transportation was wrong. "I don't think coming up a little short during the first ballot initiative to fund public transit in 12 years means there is no support in our community for public transit investment. ... You can't presume cars will be the preferred choice of transportation 20 years from now, you can't presume no one wants to wants to invest in public transit just because we Central Arkansans are essentially forced to drive cars today in our unbalanced car culture infrastructure, and you can't presume Rock Region METRO won't be successful in gaining more funding."

Does it matter? Probably not. The full board is expected to approve the waiver. But will that settle things? Nope. As Metroplan Director Jim McKenzie clarified in response to Leesa Freasier, representing the Arkansas Department of Health, who had asked whether the "monstrosities" proposed by the highway department would be built if the waiver were granted, before the project can receive federal funds, Metroplan must amend its five-year Transportation Improvement Plan and its long-range Imagine Central Arkansas Plan. It can't do that until it sees the 30 Crossing Environmental Assessment details of the project and has examined a system impact analysis now being prepared.

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