Monday, October 19, 2015

30 Crossing Recap

I've written quite a bit about about why it is worse than a waste of taxpayer money to widen I-630 and I-30 and provided some discussion of better ideas that would save money and have positive impacts on our community and state. Today I want to focus on the I-30 project, now also referred to as "30 Crossing".

Who is Opposed to Current Design of 30 Crossing Project:
Downtown Neighborhood Association
Quapaw Quarter Association
Capitol View/Stifft Station Neighborhood Association
Hillcrest Neighborhood Association
Central High Neighborhood, Inc.
Heights Neighborhood Association
The Kingwood Neighborhood Association
League of Women Voters
Arkansas Community OrganizationsStudioMain
Rep. Warwick Sabin
Rep. Clarke Tucker

Contact These People to Let Them Know You are Opposed to Current Plan:
Mayor Stodola
Phone: (501) 371-4510

County Judge Barry Hyde

Little Rock City Board Contact

Make a Public Comment to:

Find your state senator:

Find your representative:

Arkansas Highway Commission:

1. Let's look at the money. Estimates for this project started out at $300 million. AHTD's own estimates now range from $400-$650 million, with other experts claiming the total cost of making this idea work will be into the billions. AHTD didn't get a $200 million TIGER grant they applied for (Many winning projects were innovative, focused on intermodal, active, or mass transit and cost more like $10-20 million. Ooops.) and it seems likely they were counting on this money to complete the I-30 project.
The reason I say this is: 1) the amendment gives a maximum figure of $1.3 billion to be raised from the tax 2) "The List" of sacred projects to be completed comes with a total of $1.55 billion 3) The TIGER grant was asking for $200 million and an amended version of the TIGER grant application boosted funds from other sources by $50 million. This $250 million is the same as the difference between "The List" total and the amendment's tax's maximum value. 4) The TIGER grant even says "Unless full TIGER funding is received, many items in the project scope will have to be removed."

Given that the estimated cost of the I-30 project has already risen from the $300 million figure in The List to $500-750 million or so and none of that will come from TIGER funds, we are talking about spending roughly HALF of the total $1.3 billion from this statewide tax on a single project in Little Rock that people in Little Rock don't seem to want!  At this point other communities on that list should be getting upset about this project since some of their projects will have to be cut to make up for these differences (unless they are all magically coming in way under budget).

At the public meeting on 11/3/2015, AHTD didn't provide specifics on where the extra money will come from. They did make vague references to taking money from other sources and other financing options. We need to keep an eye on this aspect of the project and politicians from other parts of the state should be asking which of their local projects will be delayed or cancelled when AHTD settles on where the few hundred million extra they need will come from.

Which of the other projects will be cut to cover the difference?
This example shows ~$400 million in cuts given increase in 30 Crossing estimates and lack of TIGER funds.

2. About that amendment. In addition to limiting total funds for the entire list of projects to $1.3 billion, it also makes frequent, very specific, references to being for "4-lane Highways". It is pretty awkward then that they want to use much of money from this amendment to convert a 6-lane highway to a 10-lane one. Is that constitutional? Can AHTD really argue that the public voted for this specific project when it wasn't mentioned at all in the amendment and it doesn't meet the description of being a "4-lane highway", which was mentioned numerous times?

3. The List. The list of projects we supposedly voted for, even though it is found nowhere in the text of the amendment/ballot, is not sacred. Though AHTD initially tried to say it was, they've since made it clear that some projects might not be completed due to public opposition.  This project has a lot of public opposition and costs more than any other project on the list. Giving up on this unpopular project would allow AHTD to complete many other presumably more popular (and more constitutional) projects.

4. Do we even need this project? AHTD claims this project is needed because traffic simulations showed traffic getting a little too slow for an hour a day on this stretch in 2040. Predicting traffic in 2040 is complete guesswork. No one knows what impact self-driving electric cars/taxis/buses will have by then. I don't think their traffic model assumed Little Rock would have any improvement in light rail or other mass transit by then, but I think to think it will. In fact, the hundreds of millions being discussed here could have gone a long way towards improving mass transit in Central Arkansas. More proof we probably don't need this project lies in the these two facts: 1) Arkansas has the 12th largest highway system in the country (according to AHTD) and yet we rank 29th and 32nd in area and population, meaning we have a lot more highway per person or sq. mi. than most states already. 2) More vehicular lanes already connect Little Rock to North Little Rock than connect Brooklyn to Manhattan or San Francisco to Oakland. Our population still won't be even close to those by 2040, so why do we need even more lanes? (Yes, I-30 is an interstate and helps connect more than just LR and NLR, but those other locations' connections also include interstates)

5. The impacts of this project have been well documented on Arkansas Times and Move Arkansas. In general urban interstates divide communities while draining the local tax base by making it easier for people to live/pay sales & property tax outside the city while working in it (thus benefiting from its costly road, water, sewer, police, and fire infrastructure). Despite having a mission statement pushing intermodal, aesthetically pleasing transportation systems, AHTD is trying to force this project on Little Rock that will harm rail and pedestrian infrastructure and damage the beauty of the River Market and Clinton Library (the biggest tourist draw in the state). 30Crossing will make it harder, and less pleasant, for people to travel east-west in this area. Heifer, Clinton Library, Lost Forty, Rock Town Distillery, and a proposed "RiverMarket Echo" will all become more isolated from the rest of Downtown. The current design kills the rail trolley before it gets to Heifer and prevents it from ever being extended to the airport; something AHTD didn't discuss with any of the impacted entities before coming up with this idea. AHTD must've realized how ugly and damaging this project would be because they removed the video of it from their Connecting Arkansas website.

6. How can it be stopped? It seems pretty clear at this point that AHTD doesn't care what normal people think. Public comments at meetings (and I assume via e-mails) have been overwhelmingly against this project. One interest concept I heard recently is that Mayor Stodola has the power to veto this project. Here is why: "He sits on the Metroplan board, and the state must obtain a waiver from that Board to build a 10-lane project, since current policy limits highways to 6 lanes. the officeholder where a project is located directs Board action; if Stodola votes No, the Board is expected to uphold that position."
If you live elsewhere in Arkansas and don't want to see hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars wasted on an unpopular project (while delaying or cancelling your local road projects) then contact your state representatives and other elected officials.

If I were able to attend a public meeting, here are the two questions I'd ask:

1. You've provided costs ranging from $300-$650 million and other experts claim this project will cost even more. Given the loss of TIGER funds, how do you plan to afford doing this project as part of the Connecting Arkansas Program (which is capped at $1.3 billion and listed this project at just $300 million of $1.55 billion total in projects)?

Update: This question came up at a public meeting and their response was that they really only wanted $20 million from TIGER (?!) and that they'd be taking money from other sources and using unspecified financing options to make this thing work.

2. You claim voters voted on this specific project even though it isn't mentioned in the text of the amendment. The amendment we voted on does make frequent mention of using funds for "4-lane highways", how can you justify widening a 6-lane highway to 10-lanes if it is clear we voted for 4-lane highway projects?

If you haven't already, consider joining the Facebook group, e-mailing Mayor Stodola, making a public comment, contacting the highway commission, and attending upcoming public meetings.

MoveArkansas Blog (scroll down for 30 Crossing Articles)
All Arkansas Times Articles

Quote from the Amendment (which does not mention this project or include The List)

The List. Showing a total higher than $1.3 billion and a low estimate for I-30 project.

Section of the Failed TIGER Grant Application.
Were they counting on this $200 million to do the 30 Crossing?
Why does it put the cost at $650 million when The List says $300 million?

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