Consultants to city: Get MOU from AHTD on I-30 | Arkansas Blog

Monday, May 23, 2016

Consultants to city: Get MOU from AHTD on I-30

Posted By on Mon, May 23, 2016 at 9:45 PM

click to enlarge Politov and Moore talk to the City Board.
  • Politov and Moore talk to the City Board.

Consultants hired by Little Rock to advise on downtown planning in light of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department plans to widen Interstate 30 told the City Board today that it ought to enter into an agreement with the AHTD to insure the city has a "place at the table" before and during the project's design-build phase. (See all the AHTD proposals at the link.)

Paul Moore, an engineer with Nelson\Nygaard, and Scott Politov, an urban planner and president of  Gateway Planning Group, presented their report to the city board at what was called a "work session" at the Centre at University Park (the rebuilt Adult Leisure Center). They did not address head-on whether they supported the AHTD's design for the 30 Crossing project, which in places will be, counting auxiliary lanes, twice as wide as I-30 is now. AHTD describes what appears to be the most favored option by the business community as six through lanes plus four collector/distributor lanes (called "decision lanes" in North Little Rock because they are not walled off from the through lanes). But Moore and Politov did urge the city to reach some kind of Memorandum of Understanding or an interlocal agreement with the AHTD before the design-build contract is let stating what the city wants to see incorporated into the final design, to allow for negotiations that are "constructive and collegial."

"We have concerns about the proposal's impact and interaction of the design with development" downtown, which will impact "blocks and blocks and blocks," Politov said. "The design-build process is an opportunity for the city to be at the table" to make sure that the design enhances connectivity between what Politov said was strikingly disconnected downtown redevelopment. 

Moore said the fact that there is no master plan for downtown development presented a "challenge" to the work Nelson\Nygaard was hired to do. Moore said he recognized that there is "frustration on both sides" — meaning those who oppose the widening project and the AHTD — and concerns with consistency with regional planning. 

The consultants said the city should:

* Consider the speed of traffic entering Little Rock from the C/D lanes. They suggested that slowing traffic on those lanes was essential to development on the exits they feed into: Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Streets. Fast-moving one-way streets are unfriendly to pedestrians and development, they said. That means that Little Rock must decide what Level of Service — the highway department is shooting for Level D on the through lanes, which allows for eight car lengths between vehicles — would best serve traffic entering downtown, and might consider "pressing back" on that LOS. Nor does the 30 Crossing design need to make Fourth, Fifth and Sixth three lanes, as envisioned by the so-called "split diamond plan," immediately, before there is a need to accommodate future traffic.

Moore and Politov said traffic on the C/D lanes could be slowed by making them appear to be boulevards, with plantings close to the traffic and other "vertical elements" that cue drivers that they should slow down. There will be a stoplight as the C/D lane reaches Fourth Street.

However, the C/D lanes are at an elevation where it would not be possible to landscape them with trees, and at one point Politov betrayed he was not totally conversant on the 30 Crossing plan when he suggested the C/D lane for Little Rock could be entered from North Little Rock. That is part of the plan already, as Director Lance Hines pointed out.

*Wider bridges at Sixth and Ninth streets to could increase connectivity. As an example, they showed a photograph of the landscaped Fifth Street bridge in Atlanta; the landscaped areas on either side of the traffic are as wide as the lanes themselves. Such landscaping would the interstate invisible to traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian.

(Hines said it might surprise some folks that he was supportive of such a design and asked what it might cost. A figure of $10 million was suggested, but the consultants said they were unsure. Interestingly, Georgia Tech, which is located near the Fifth Street Bridge, is expanding its technology research park and so contributed to the cost of the bridge. Maybe the city could turn to the Little Rock Technology Park, once it gets all that private investment.) Politov warned, however, that these "mini-deck" parks require operational funding; he noted that Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, though it has a number of money-making developments, is always in the red.

* Consider that we don't know what the mobility needs 20 years from now will be. Moore said, however, that he was not surprised that the AHTD was designing the Arkansas River Bridge as wide as it is, because they are building a bridge to last for decades. 

In response to a question from Director Dean Kumpuris, Moore said that induced traffic is "real" and that the widening highways only buys a "little bit of time; you would get a number of years of relief" before the congestion returned to its previous level. 

Kumpuris also asked if another bridge would be beneficial; Moore said yes, adding to the network of roads "is always beneficial," and cited Pittsburgh's bridge system, which includes bridges over several streets in succession over the Allegheny.

In response to a question from Hines whether a boulevard — he was referring to architect Tom Fennell's suggestion to convert I-30 to an at-grade boulevard — was feasible, Moore said no "mainline freeways" have been removed in the U.S., though some cities are considering doing so.

Mayor Mark Stodola noted the "split diamond plan" would make available to the city 18 acres of park land now taken up by the Second Street exit ramps, and asked Moore, somewhat rhetorically, if that weren't a good tradeoff for changing traffic patterns downtown. Moore said the park was a "tremendous opportunity for the city," and Stodola swore, again, the 18 acres would not be a weedlot.

The city has until June 10 to prepare comments to the AHTD on 30 Crossing. City Manager Bruce Moore will draft a letter that embodies the discussion with Nelson\Nygaard and Gateway Planning for the board.

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