Question raised on funding for I-30 project with failure of grant application | Arkansas Blog

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Question raised on funding for I-30 project with failure of grant application

Posted By on Sun, Nov 1, 2015 at 7:45 AM

click to enlarge MONEY QUESTION: On project to expand Interstate 30. - AHTD
  • AHTD
  • MONEY QUESTION: On project to expand Interstate 30.

Move Arkansas, a blog devoted to planning issues, notes
that the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department failed to win $200 million it had sought for the Interstate 30 project in the federal Tiger funding for transportation projects.

The winners announced last week, Move Arkansas notes, seem to lean heavily to multi-modal projects. You see things like bike lanes and greenways scattered throughout the list of winners. Texas, for example, got $20 million to improve rural transit systems.  I-30 boils down to new bridge, more concrete, move more traffic through the heart of Little Rock faster. Not, as Move Arkansas noted, "innovative, multi-modal, forward-looking projects designed to improve communities."

I asked a Highway Department spokesman what the failure to get the $200 million meant regarding financing for the so-called 30 Crossing project. No comment at this time, he said..

The estimated construction tab has risen to $650 million — a figure, Metroplan notes, that doesn't include maintenance, which could shoot the real cost over time to $4 billion, not to mention other costs of collateral impact of the project.

A portion of the project will receive revenue from a 10-year sales tax dedicated to highway projects. But it was also already on the boards as a "gap financing" project. That is, it borrows against future highway funding. Kind of like buying a car on credit when unemployed hoping that a paying job is in your future. And now, no Tiger money to plug in.

The project is running $200 million over the original $450 million committed through the Connect Arkansas program. The Tiger application said: "If TIGER funds are not received, many aspects of the Project scope will have to be removed."

A few lanes of concrete would be a start.

It's a question that should be answered at Tuesday's meeting with Little Rock City Board. The public is invited. Clinton Presidential Center. 7 p.m.

That could be a good time, too, to talk of the sufficiency of the Highway Department's cost-benefit analysis. I posted yesterday an explanation of how these formulas are determined by UALR engineering faculty member Nickolas Jovanovic. His analysis raises the question of whether the state's analysis includes all of the downside costs of such a project.  He made the point that broader community issues should be considered along with time saved by interstate truckers in a full analysis.

Large infrastructure projects are, not only about responding to the current needs of society, but also about (quite literally) shaping society for the future. Infrastructure lasts for decades, so this is always true, whether or not people are aware of it when projects are approved.

Example from me: Building freeways has accelerated white flight from Little Rock for decades, with consequences from schools to neighborhood decay. That is a cost in Little Rock, like it or not.

Looming questions: Will the state's environmental impact statement adequately address all the social, environmental and cultural impacts of this project, as well as air and water? And if it does not, will a lawsuit be filed to require it? It would be a rare highway EIS that passed muster the first time. I'm detecting high interest in a legal challenge.

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