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A healthy boulevard, not a concrete wound 

An alternative plan to Interstate 30 expansion in downtown Little Rock.

A CLOSE-UP: Of the proposed tree-lined boulevard.
  • A CLOSE-UP: Of the proposed tree-lined boulevard.

At the Nov. 16 public hearing at the Clinton Presidential Center on the widening of Interstate 30 to 10 lanes, 30 Crossing project director Jerry Holder said he and the state Highway and Transportation Department would get together with StudioMain to hear some of the design collaborative's ideas to improve connectivity between the east and west sections of downtown that the highway slices through.

Christopher East, an architect with the Cromwell Architects Engineers firm and a member of StudioMain, said he and others with the collective did meet with Holder. Once. StudioMain hasn't heard from them since.

In theory, Holder was to take StudioMain's ideas to the HNTB civil engineering firm in Dallas that Holder once worked for, and get back with them. Didn't happen.

Enter Tom Fennell, of Fennell and Purifoy Architects. Fennell opposes the widening. At the Clinton Center hearing, Fennell noted that the Highway Department had given no thought to reducing demand and was aware that widening will create more. In turn, more vehicular traffic will cause damage to the environment and public health, not to mention the negative impacts on downtown that a wider gash will mean.

"It's hard to argue with the highway department unless you have something to show them as an alternative, and there wasn't an alternative out there," Fennell said last week after passing out copies of his plan for what he calls Arkansas Boulevard. The alternative, by Fennell and architects Baxter Reecer, Ben Hartter and Ed Sergeant, would change Interstate 440 to Interstate 30 and route traffic to the loop system around Little Rock. It would add a new bridge across the Arkansas River connecting Pike Avenue to Chester Street.

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That would allow I-30 from I-630 to I-40 to be transformed to a six-lane, at-grade boulevard that would handle low- to medium-speed through traffic. On either side of the boulevard would be low-speed lanes for bus and bicycle routes.

The boulevard, which would have a green buffer down the middle and on either side, would be attractive to retail development, and reconnect downtown; unimpeded views of the Clinton Center and Heifer International from the west and new high-rise residential development from the east would make downtown of a piece. The plan creates a "net 30 acres of developable commercial and or parkland downtown by taking in frontage roads," Fennell said.

The design, he added, "wouldn't cost any more than what they are proposing for the 10-lane [design]. ... The beauty of this is you don't have to keep building freeways; you live with what you have. And I believe this is not going to affect commute times and may even improve them."

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