Status: Under construction
Originally reported cost: $632 million
Update for current status:
As of September 2023, the Interstate 30 project is currently under construction.
Update from Highway Boondoggles 4, 2018:
The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department has proposed widening Interstate 30 through Little Rock and North Little Rock from six to 10 lanes. By increasing traffic and encouraging auto-oriented development, the project threatens to conflict with the revitalization of downtown Little Rock that has taken place in recent years.
In November 2017, the Arkansas Department of Transportation settled on a 10-lane plan for the project. As of February 2018, transportation officials were in the process of drafting an environmental assessment and were planning to hold a public hearing on the plans in mid-2018.
Original story from Highway Boondoggles 3, 2017:
Interstate 30 runs north-south through the heart of Little Rock and North Little Rock, linking the communities by a bridge across the Arkansas River. The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) has proposed to replace the bridge, which was built in the 1950s, with a wider span connected to expanded highway links on both sides of the river, encompassing 6.7 miles of highway.
Like many urban downtowns around the country, downtown Little Rock has been revitalized over the past decade, with much of the new growth centered on the banks of the Arkansas River, including in the River Market cultural and entertainment district on the west side of I-30 and the area surrounding the Clinton Presidential Center on the east side.
The AHTD plan to widen I-30 from six to 10-12 lanes threatens that revitalization and reverses regional policies that had encouraged a shift away from auto-oriented development. Regional plans dating from the mid-1990s had expressed the desire to limit all freeways in the Little Rock area to no more than six lanes, with additional travel needs addressed by improvements to local streets and transit.
Arkansas transportation officials’ justification for further widening the barrier created by I-30 is that the existing highway is crowded and its antiquated design creates safety issues. But congestion problems on the existing highway – while they exist, especially at rush hour – are not especially severe. The typical rush-hour trip through the corridor currently takes 11 to 12 minutes, compared with 5 to 7 minutes at “free-flow” speeds.
Conditions, AHTD predicts, will get worse in the years to come, with travel times increasing to 16 to 18 minutes. But, those estimates are based on projected increases in vehicle travel through the corridor of 15 to 25 percent under a “no build” scenario by 2041 – a pace of traffic growth much faster than has been experienced in the corridor over the last decade. Daily traffic on I-30 south of its connection with I-630 increased by about 5 percent between 2007 and 2016 (state officials project a 25 percent traffic increase near this location by 2041), while traffic on the I-30 bridge itself has been stable over the last decade (officials forecast 15 percent traffic growth by 2041). If traffic does not increase as quickly as AHTD predicts, the projected growth in congestion may not materialize.
Ironically, widening the highway to 10 lanes could bring even more cars to the road. The state’s traffic and safety study assumes that a 10-lane road will attract 4 to 7 percent more traffic than an 8-lane road, and that an 8-lane road would attract 15 to 18 percent more traffic than a 6-lane road. An analysis commissioned by the Arkansas Policy Panel suggested that expanding I-30 would pull in rush hour traffic that currently travels on roads outside the city center and that travels at different times of day.
The potential for significant “induced demand” on I-30 has led local officials to express concern about the impact of the widening on city streets and on connecting highway traffic. Regional planners have estimated the potential costs of widening other freeways in the system in order to avoid the formation of bottlenecks created by the I-30 project to be as much as $4 billion.
Local residents and elected officials have expressed many concerns about the plan, which is currently in the midst of an environmental analysis required to receive federal approval for the project.