Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce Position on the "30 Crossing"
In light of the public discussion about the “30 Crossing” project for improving the I-30 corridor, the Little Rock Regional Chamber is issuing a public declaration of support for the overall design of six primary lanes with four connector/distributor lanes for local traffic.
This overall design provides increased accessibility as well as safety for people traveling to and from the downtown area. We commend the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, and its design team coordinated by Garver Engineers, for developing a plan that improves traffic safety while not materially increasing the existing right-of-way for the corridor. We also commend them for being responsive to the many legitimate concerns that have been expressed by the public throughout the approximately 18 months of planning and community outreach that have already taken place.
We welcome the broad community interest and discussion about what is the best possible design that enhances our downtown business and residential climate, but also remembers the needs and safety of the thousands of citizens who commute to work every day into our downtown areas.
The below factors were considered in the chamber’s decision to take this position.
Little Rock voters overwhelmingly supported the Highway Commission’s Connecting Arkansas Program statewide ½ cent sales tax election to fund this specific project in November 2012.
The AHTD and Garver Engineers, along with national transportation engineering firm expertise, have been working on this project for the last 18 months.
There has been significant local input through: the Technical Work Group made up of 35 local, state, and federal agency staff; Stakeholder Advisory Group made up of four appointees each from Little Rock, North Little Rock, and Pulaski County; numerous stakeholder meetings with local civic, church, and community groups; and five public meetings since August 2014.
I-30 Crossing Corridor design of six interstate main lanes with two collector/distributor lanes on each side provides a number of current and future advantages:
Increased accessibility to downtown Little Rock through the collector/distributor roads. To the life of a city, business, or community, access is just as important as location. The greater the access, the higher the probability that someone will visit your location. Downtown Little Rock currently has access points from I-30 at the 2nd Street/Cantrell interchange, 6th Street, and 9th Street. Any reduction in the current level of access would have a detrimental effect. The current exit configuration does not meet safety standards, which would never permit three exits — Cantrell, 6th, and 9th — to be constructed so close together and in such close proximity to the I-630 interchange.
Increased safety of merging onto and off of Interstate 30 through additional lanes and longer ramps. The current on/off-ramp system is outdated and unsafe. Today’s design standards would never allow such ramps to be constructed in their current configuration. The reconstruction of the corridor provides the opportunity to correct the issue of acceleration and deceleration lanes that are too short and cause accidents.
Increased safety and efficiency of overall corridor through the addition of shoulders on the I-30 bridge, which will reduce accidents while creating space to manage them when they occur. An accident on the I-30 bridge has the potential to bring traffic to a halt for hours. Because the six-lane bridge does not have any shoulder lanes, vehicles that have been in an accident, however minor, do not have anywhere to pull off to the side and out of the way of traffic flow, nor do tow trucks have a way to gain quick access. Even more critical, the lack of a shoulder means that it is difficult for emergency responders to reach the scene of a serious accident.
Eases current and future congestion issues through additional capacity. The I-30 corridor currently has six lanes. Traffic backs up at the exit ramps through downtown as vehicles enter and exit the outside lanes with little room to accelerate or decelerate. As our population grows, this problem will only continue to get worse. The plan we support maintains the same number of interstate lanes, but adds two collector/distributor lanes on each side that serve the same purpose as the existing exit ramps, but in a much more efficient manner. They provide enough room for those entering and exiting the interstate system to do so without as much impact on the flow of traffic.
Provides dedicated space for alternate forms of transportation -- such as Bus Rapid Transit, Light Rail, etc. -- when implemented. There has been much discussion of potential future use of mass-transit options such as bus rapid transit and light rail as alternative modes of transportation. We welcome and embrace the opportunity to implement such options in the future, which is one of the reasons we support the current expansion plan. As our society begins making the cultural transition from single-occupant vehicular commuting to more sustainable and forward-thinking modes of transportation, it will be a gradual process. Additional roadway capacity will be required at first so that the traditional commuters can exist alongside the mass transit alternatives. The additional collector/distributor lanes could one day be repurposed as dedicated mass-transit lanes while still maintaining the existing six-lane corridor for other traffic. We believe at some point there will no longer be the need for six lanes for traditional vehicular traffic. However, to begin implementing alternatives, we will need the capacity to do so without disrupting the current preferred mode of transportation.
Maintains six open lanes of traffic during construction, up to four years, to keep downtown businesses and attractions accessible. One of our biggest fears in replacing the I-30 bridge is that during the construction period, expected to last up to four years, access will be choked off from downtown. Such a long period of time of limited access to downtown could prove to be extremely detrimental if not managed properly. The plan we support would allow for the construction of the east side of the bridge to keep six lanes open during construction. Once this was constructed, traffic would be diverted to those lanes as the main bridge is replaced, maintaining six lanes of traffic across the river throughout the construction period. Maintaining six lanes during construction would not be possible with the eight-lane option.
Opportunity to reclaim valuable River Market property for public use through the elimination of current clover leaf system. The River Market District serves as a showpiece for the Little Rock region. It is the front door to our city and home to some of our most popular hotels, restaurants, retail, and tourist attractions. We are against anything that would have a detrimental effect on the district. While it has been noted that a larger expanse under the I-30 overpasses will be created by the additional collector/distributor lanes, we believe this will be mitigated by the beneficial reclaiming of valuable River Market property currently occupied by the outdated cloverleaf exit ramp system. To the east, the Clinton Presidential Park will be able to expand, and to the west, the “dead zone” on the south side of the 600 block would become available for public park land or private, mixed-use development to complement what already exists on the north side of the block. Either option would create more synergy in the 600 block, which, in turn, helps to bridge the current gap between the Clinton Presidential Center and the more populated blocks of Clinton Avenue.
Limited requirement for additional right-of-way. Because of the large footprint of the existing right-of-way through downtown due to the cloverleaf on- and off-ramp system, very little additional right-of-way will be needed to construct the six-plus-four design, since the ramps will be streamlined into collector/distributor lanes that run parallel to the interstate.
Additional lighting, sidewalks, and bike paths on or below new bridges. The State Highway Department has committed to increasing the lighting amount, sidewalk width, and bike lanes under the I-30 overpasses, and will do the same on any cross-street bridges that pass over the Interstate. The increased safety and access means increased pedestrian connectivity between the east and west sides of I-30.
Safer access and open sight lines for east-west pedestrian and vehicle travel below the new structure. One design element of the new I-30 structure is improved sight lines underneath the interstate, particularly as it passes over Clinton Avenue. This will increase pedestrian safety and comfort as well as counterbalance the negative effects of a slightly wider overpass.
New bridge design provides safer river navigation through opening the river channel currently used by barge and other traffic, decreasing the likelihood of bridge collisions. The Arkansas River is a major thoroughfare for barge traffic as it makes its way to the Little Rock River Port and on to other destinations. Five of the six downtown bridges that span the river are perfectly aligned to create a wide corridor for the barges. The I-30 bridge, however, was constructed with a pier directly in the middle of that corridor which has led to barges striking that pier on multiple occasions. The new bridge will be designed to align with the other five bridges, making a safer throughway for river traffic, which will also increase the likelihood that barge traffic will choose the route through Little Rock. Higher traffic on the Arkansas River means higher utilization and expansion of the Little Rock River Port, which serves as an economic engine for the region.
It has been argued that by reducing congestion to and from the downtown Central Business District of Little Rock, this plan would encourage more suburban sprawl. The reality is while this may be true for a small number of people who choose to live outside of the city, the majority do so for other reasons such as public school conditions or crime rate. The most effective way to discourage sprawl is to fix these two problems, and the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce has been engaged in the process of doing just that. Furthermore, if an existing or potential employer cannot be confident employees can easily get to and from the workplace, they will choose to locate their business where it is perceived to be more convenient. Fewer employers downtown would mean fewer people who will have a reason to live and visit downtown. By making it easier to travel to and from the Central Business District, we increase the likelihood of retaining existing employers and attracting new ones, and we increase the value of downtown as a residential option.
The Little Rock Regional Chamber works daily to ensure that businesses may operate profitably and maintain the highest level of competitiveness on the state, regional, and national level. We understand that a strong economy and vibrant community of tomorrow hinges on decisions made today. We believe that this plan for the I-30 Crossing is a positive factor in building the quality of place that will be most desirable for a future workforce while being the safest for our community. This plan will strengthen current efforts supported by the chamber to raise the quality of life for all citizens of the Little Rock region.