U.S. District Judge James Moody said he will likely issue a decision Tuesday on whether to halt an expansion project just getting underway on Interstate 630 in Little Rock. On Monday he heard a full day of oral arguments and testimony that continued into the evening.
A group of five plaintiffs, represented by environmental attorney Richard Mays, requested a temporary restraining order until the full merits of the lawsuit can be heard. He argued that a project of this magnitude should have had an environmental assessment completed. Instead federal transportation officials used a categorical exclision, which Mays said is mainly used for small routine projects.
The $87.4 million project would add one lane in each direction of I-630 between S. University Avenue and the Baptist Health exit – a distance of about 2.2 miles.
Mays said issues like potential contamination from increased vehicle exhaust should have been considered by transportation officials.
Mays called three witnesses Monday morning. Two were Little Rock residents who said they would be impacted by the construction. The third was Randal Looney, environmental coordinator with the Federal Highway Administration.
The FHA, U.S. Department of Transportation and the Arkansas Department of Transportation are defendants in the lawsuit. An attorney for the three entities cross-examined the witnesses and said a lot of the information presented was irrelevant to the I-630 expansion project.
After Mays had called his final witness, the attorney for the defendants asked Judge Moody for a summary judgment. Judge Moody denied the request, and a string of defense witnesses were called after a lunch break.
The first major step in the expansion project is to demolish the Hughes Street overpass. It’s one of three bridges that will have to be torn down and rebuilt to accommodate the larger width of the interstate.
Final work to remove the Hughes Street overpass was to be completed over the weekend, but workers for a contractor weren’t able to remove steel beams as expected.
"It’s somewhat of a delicate choreography to dismantle a bridge on top of live traffic like they were doing," said Danny Straessle, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Transportation. "That and also the two rain events that came through got them at least to the point where they cleared the beams of all of the concrete, and they’ve also removed all of the false work, or the wood that they had put in place to catch the debris."
Straessle told KUAR News that the contractor is now planning to remove the beams during the late Monday night and early Tuesday morning hours. That will require stopping all traffic on I-630.
"The contractor will actually be lifting those beams out of place. Now there’s eight or 12 beams total that have to be picked up, and, as that happens, the traffic will be stopped for about 15 minute intervals while they secure the beam, lift it, hoist it over to a staging area and then haul it off," Straessle said.