A joint-venture has been approved to design and build the expansion of Interstate 30 through the downtowns of Little Rock and North Little Rock. Kiewit-Massman Constructors was one of six entities that responded with proposals to widen the nearly seven-mile stretch from six to 10 lanes.
But the cost is now much higher than the $325 million projected in 2013. Kiewit-Massman says it can do part of the project, which is centered around the Arkansas River Bridge, for $535 million. Work needed for areas further north and south would likely push the project to the $1 billion range.
The Arkansas Department of Transportation says Kiewit-Massman was chosen after evaluating designs, construction methods, third party coordination and other factors. But Project Director Ben Browning says the proposal only covered the center of the area to be widened.
"They really focused at the replacement of the Arkansas River Bridge and then they showed making improvements to the Broadway interchange [in North Little Rock], making improvements to Highway 10, and then improvements to the intersection of 630 and 30," Browning said.
The Arkansas State Highway Commission approved the contractor’s selection during a meeting Wednesday, which allows the state to finalize negotiations.
"So the hope is to have a contract executed by the end of this month, early next month. We then have up to six months to go through that optimization and refinement period," Browning said.
That period would be used, he said, to study how to compete all aspects of the project that the state wants to accomplish, but aren’t currently covered. That includes the stretch of I-30 between I-630 and I-530 to the south and to reach I-40 to the north. If the state decides after six months that the project is not feasible, Browning says the contract could be cancelled.
"Assuming at the end of six months we have a project that we agree meets the needs of the corridor, we believe based on the schedule submitted by the contractor, which took into that six month period, we believe we can start construction in the first part of 2020," Browning said.
But there are a lot of opponents to the 30 Crossing project who say adding lanes would result in more vehicles, noise and exhaust, which would hurt the thriving downtown areas.
Architect Tom Finnell has been part of a group called Improve 30 Crossing and has suggested alternatives that would route commuter traffic in a belt system around the downtown area. He calls the approval of a contractor "presumptive" since legal action is still pending.
Lawsuits have been filed over using money from the Connecting Arkansas Program for the widening of I-630, which is underway, and the proposal for I-30. The legal challenges say the program, which is funded by a half-percent increase in the statewide sales tax, is only intended for highways that are four lanes or smaller.
"An injunction was not issued in either of those, so they can move forward at their own peril basically, or at the peril of the state taxpayers because if the court finds that they can’t use these funds for that issue, they’ll have to make up the shortfall," Finnell says.
He also argues that the state hasn’t submitted the needed environmental assessment to the federal government.
"There are people that are prepared to file suit to challenge that because they did not do a full environmental impact statement, and if any project in the state ever needed a full environmental impact statement, it’s the 30 Crossing project, both dollarwise, scopewise and its impact on Little Rock."
If the project is allowed to proceed as scheduled, transportation officials say construction would begin next year and is expected to be completed in 2024.