Thursday, March 17, 2016

All busy on the I-30 front: But what does it mean?

Posted By on Thu, Mar 17, 2016 at 3:47 PM

click to enlarge Fennell's lastest iteration of a convertible I-30 interstate/boulevard.
  • Fennell's lastest iteration of a convertible I-30 interstate/boulevard.

So Mayor Stodola today repeated today his belief that how the 30 Crossing interstate plan plays out will impact downtown for the next 50-plus years, and is a "decision of monumental importance." Resolution, he said at his State of the City address, is "on the horizon"; the city has been working hard. 

But afterward he declined to be more specific on the monumental decision. City-hired urban planning consultant Nelson/Nygaard has reviewed data produced by the Arkansas Hell if we're a Transportation Department to show I-30 should be widened to 10 lanes through downtown  to accommodate future congestion, he said, and spent Monday and Tuesday in interviews with the board of directors, StudioMain members and other stakeholders. All are "talking, talking, talking," he said. What's all this talking amounting to?

Stodola has been keeping up with what architects from the design collaborative StudioMain have been up to in their work with Garver Engineers (the lead design firm for the AHTD). StudioMain spokesman Chris East said his group is working on a "long-term master plan for all of downtown," not just Interstate 30, including issues of east-west connectivity, multi-modal transportation, parks and new development.  He hopes StudioMain will be able to present its plans soon, but said he could not be more specific. 

Then there's architect Tom Fennell, who has been spent hours on his own dime trying to show the highway department  how it could convert I-30 to a community-building boulevard instead of a community-busting barrier of concrete. He says the AHTD has looked at his "convertible" plan — he presented his latest version last Saturday to the Coalition of Little Rock Neighborhoods (shown above) — and believes it's a “good compromise between needs of downtown and commuters and are trying to go that direction if they can stay within budget and design standards, though they did say there can be exceptions to design standards."

Yet another player is Norm Marshall, whose consulting firm Smart Mobility Inc. was hired by an anonymous donor working with Fennell and Tim McKuin of Move Arkansas. Marshall was in town last week meeting stakeholders and driving I-30 at rush hour "to match numbers to reality on the ground," McKuin said; Marshall will run AHTD traffic data through his own computer model to detect flaws that might exist, and will then run alternatives to the AHTD plan through the model. He'll also look at the Pike Avenue-Chester Street bridge idea, which the AHTD has rejected as doing too little to relieve congestion on Interstate 30, and public transportation.

Will all these roads intersect at some point? Who knows. But the attention focused on the  30 Crossing project has at least slowed the AHTD's dash to widen I-30 a bit, requiring the agency to move a scheduled February public hearing on its 10-lane plan to April, McKuin said.

Fennell and AHTD Engineer Ben Browning have told the Times that the AHTD is seriously considering removing the off-ramps at Second Street — the new configuration of this exit was one of the most problematic parts of the initial 30 Crossing design — and moving the exits to Fourth Street. Mayor Stodola has asked for that change. Fennell's plan envisions a park from Cumberland to the Clinton Library grounds.

Fennell's plan also calls for running I-30 below grade from Third to Ninth streets with bridges at Third, Fourth and Fifth. Though the AHTD says it thinks it would be too expensive to run I-30 below grade, engineers will study it, Fennell said. However, the highway department says its budget is inflexible.

Fennell’s plan also calls for a deck park that would form a three-block canopy over the interstate from Sixth to Ninth streets; the AHTD says sure, if private money will build it. His idea of north-south cantilevered green bands they reject as too expensive, but green bands in the right-of-way might work.

Fennell sought to relocate the I-630 eastbound to I-30 eastbound ramp to reduce neighborhood impact; that would not improve safety, the AHTD said. Creating a flyover ramp from I-630 eastbound to I-30 westbound to create better access to I-440 eastbound (not shown on map above), but that, too, would be expensive.

It's quite a complicated road map to follow, but maybe it will lead to a better destination than that envisioned by the highwaymen.

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