Highway Department FAQ tries to brush of I-30 concerns | Arkansas Blog

Friday, February 19, 2016

Highway Department FAQ tries to brush of I-30 concerns

Posted By on Fri, Feb 19, 2016 at 8:19 PM

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The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, in response to reasons offered, mostly by Metroplan, why the agency's plan to widen Interstate 30 is a bad idea, has published on its webpage explaining the 30 Crossing project the link, "Know the Facts!"

"In a continuing effort to educate the public on a myriad of facts surrounding the proposed 30 Crossing project, a comprehensive set of answers to the most frequently asked questions (FAQ) has been published," an message from AHTD spokesman Danny Straessle said. 

Here's one of the FAQs and the agency answers: 

Will widening I-30 require all connecting freeways to be reconstructed at an estimated cost of $4 billion? 

The $4 billion estimate was not developed by the Highway Department. This estimate was produced by Metroplan staff based on assumptions that AHTD has reviewed and determined to be inconsistent with the Department’s standard planning processes. Metroplan developed this estimate on the assumption that if the Department’s planning process results in a recommendation to widen I-30 then the same planning result applies to every interstate in the region, resulting in their widening to 8 or 10 lanes. This assumption does not accurately portray the Department’s planning process.


What the AHTD is referring to here is Metroplan's systems engineering analysis of the impact of a 10-lane I-30. Because the highway agency chose not to do the analysis, Metroplan's Central Arkansas Regional Transportation Study division did, to inform the National Environmental Protection Act's review of the impact of 30 Crossing.  

Casey Covington, CARTS director, reported on the analysis at a November meeting of the Regional Planning Advisory Council. The $4 billion is an estimate, in 2040 dollars, of what it would take for the local interstate system to move "in equilibrium," without the bottlenecks on other roads that widening I-30 will cause. It was reached using the highway department's own rule for urban highways: that traffic move at a Level of Service D, which allows traffic to move at rush hour with eight lanes between cars.

Highway engineers concede that adding lanes to interstates induces traffic. More lanes, more cars. If unblocking bottlenecks for safety is what AHTD does, doesn't it make sense the agency would need to address the consequences of induced traffic on I-30 in the whole system?

Another FAQ: Have other studies been conducted regarding the need for widening I-30? The agency's answer:
 
Yes. Central Arkansas Regional Transportation Study (CARTS) was commissioned by AHTD and Metroplan in 2003 to conduct two Areawide Freeway Studies. The studies analyzed the Arkansas River crossings and regional freeway network for the 2025 design year. Traffic on I-30 was forecast to increase by 23% between 2001 and 2025. The reports concluded that I-30 warranted 10 lanes by 2025 to achieve a desirable level of service. The study identified a new Arkansas River Crossing at Pike Avenue, but after further analysis concluded that the new river crossing would only divert a small number of daily vehicles from I-30. 

Here's what else that plan, prepared by the Louis Berger consulting firm but never adopted by Metroplan, said: 

The full widening of I-30 to five lanes in each direction (Alternative 3) is the only
alternative that provides an acceptable LOS (LOS D or better) for all crossings. It has the second highest cost and a lower benefit/cost ratio than the other build alternatives. 

In other words, if your goal is let traffic move at 40 mph during rush hour 20 years from now, why by all means spend $630 million and further blight downtown to do so.

The FAQs also say ridding I-30 of bottlenecks will only create small bottlenecks in the rest of the system, that drive time will be far better than the 1 minute that others have estimated using the AHTD's data, and so forth. 

I asked Metroplan director Jim McKenzie if he had any comment to make on the FAQs. 

I could not help but notice that the Highway Department cited Metroplan quite often in their answers. Metroplan was not consulted in the development of the answers to the questions in the FAQ. It is safe to say that had the questions been presented to Metroplan, the answers would have been different.


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