As the state representative for the legislative district that includes downtown Little Rock, I am very concerned about the current proposal to expand Interstate 30 in a way that would further divide neighborhoods, disrupt public transit, and degrade the unique culture and economic development potential of the area.
The 30 Crossing project was originally conceived to address the structural integrity of the Arkansas River bridge, and of course we should do whatever is necessary to repair and/or replace aging infrastructure to ensure public safety.
But it seems frivolous and short-sighted to further widen a freeway at the expense of a downtown streetscape that recently has been revitalized and continues to improve. After all, many cities around the country have been doing exactly the opposite by removing interstate highways from dense urban areas. (See Boston, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Milwaukee, etc.)
The current design for the I-30 expansion would decimate the River Market and the area in front of the Clinton Presidential Center, which have become pedestrian-friendly landmark attractions that are contributing to the economic growth of our city. Furthermore, it would create an even starker dividing line between downtown and the neighborhoods to the east — much as I-630 did along the north/south axis when it was installed decades ago — just when there has been new business development and public transit that is actually deepening connections across the current I-30 corridor.
Yes, there is rush hour traffic on I-30, but that is perfectly normal. The highway flows just fine during all other hours of the day, and history shows that expanding roads usually doesn’t eliminate backups during peak times, but instead it simply invites more vehicular use.
If we are going to invest the time and money to think beyond replacing the I-30 bridge, then we should use that opportunity to be creative and innovative in how we direct traffic through and into our downtown area. We should pay attention to current trends — which demonstrate that high-density, pedestrian-friendly urban areas with robust public transit facilitate economic growth — while also anticipating the future, when multi-lane highways may no longer be as desirable.
In the end, we should be trying to entice people to live in Little Rock or pull over for a visit, as opposed to making it easier for them to live elsewhere or drive by more quickly.
In its current form, the 30 Crossing proposal creates more problems than it solves, and it would reverse all of the recent progress we have been making toward building a more vibrant, efficient, and unified city. We can do better, and I hope the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department will embrace the challenge to make Little Rock a national model for how smart urban growth strategies can co-exist with their mission to move goods and people to and through our city.