Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Little Rock Board of Directors Deferred Action on Seeking More Study

The Little Rock Board of Directors voted to defer action on Directors Webb and Richardson's resolution seeking more study from the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department before proceeding with the current plan to build a ten-lane Interstate 30 through downtown. Here's the full resolution. And, here's a point-by-point analysis I did back in November. Basically it says, "Whoah, hold up, AHTD! You might have skipped over some good stuff on the front end of your planning process. Go back and take a closer look please." That's it. A yes vote simply asks for more study. A yes vote does not express a view on whether or not a 10-lane highway is good or bad. Seriously, it really does only ask for more study, because what to do in the I-30 corridor will have lasting impacts on the city and region for decades to come.

The meeting was packed!

Hands down, the biggest news to come out of tonight's meeting was that Charley Penix, CEO of Cromwell Architects Engineers boldly called for complete freeway removal in downtown Little Rock. He's kind of a big deal. The firm is kind of a big deal. For them to take position calling not just for minor tweaks to the AHTD's plans for I-30 but for removing I-30 from downtown altogether is kind of a big deal. (in the interest of full disclosure, I am not certain whether Penix was speaking as an individual or on behalf of the firm. Either way, it's big.) Cromwell is the oldest and largest architecture firm in Arkansas, plays a significant role on a regional level, and does work nationwide. They design and manage very big deal buildings for big deal clients with deep pockets. They've long been a major investor and employer in downtown Little Rock, and recently they made a strong commitment to East Little Rock, a neighborhood carved off of the rest of downtown when I-30 was originally built. Cromwell even designed the Highway Department Headquarters back in the 1960s and has been hired again to assess the current and future needs of the department. Cromwell designs city halls (including Little Rock's). They build corporate headquarters. They build big, expensive hotels. They're the kind of firm that gets hired by the Rockefeller and Stephens families. In other words, they are not some volunteer two-bit blogger who writes occasionally about this in his spare time.

I don't think I'm being overly dramatic when I say that for Penix as an individual and for the Cromwell firm as a whole to take a stand like this could be a turning point in the whole 30 Crossing process.

In other news from the meeting...
I was actually encouraged by the discussion among the Directors. Sure, adopting the resolution tonight would have been the best outcome. But, as I said to several folks after the meeting, the facts and reality are on our side. Some of the Directors are genuinely undecided and are listening to learn as much as they can. If the no votes had been there, this would have been defeated already. So, if the open-minded undecidedes want more time to reflect and learn, then a lot of well-informed, concerned citizens are going to be more than willing to share over the next couple of months why we need to be considering much more than just a 10-lane or an 8-lane freeway expansion. Lance Hines sounds like the only solid vote against the resolution, and even he came across as a little less aggressive tonight. Several Directors commented on the gravity of the decision and how what happens with 30 Crossing might literally be the most important decision they're going to be involved with during their time leading the largest city in the state. If they need more time before taking the small step of adopting Webb and Richardson's resolution, then I say take it. Again, the facts are on our side. More time should mean more yes votes. That will only make the ultimate approval even stronger. Or, heaven forbid, if the resolution is defeated in April, the dissent should be much stronger than it would have been tonight.

Eleven members of the public signed up to speak in favor of the resolution, and none spoke against. In addition to Penix mentioned above, there were other architects, home owners, young mothers, grandmothers, business owners, concerned and committed citizens like me, investors, and a retired transportation professional who chose to move to downtown Little Rock from Texas because of the budding sense of place. It really was inspiring to hear everyone share why they took the time out of the busy lives to speak on behalf of taking a harder look at 30 Crossing. And the silence of the opposing side was deafening!

There are a ton of discussion threads happening in the Improve 30 Crossing Facebook Group if you're interested in getting involved with a large subset of our merry band of highway opposers. As one consistent voice said just a moment ago about tonight's meeting:
The tone has changed. The important thing is the board was forced to listen to good citizen comment. Their minds had to have been broadened. They were unable to shut it down and move on so I would call it a partial victory.
I'll add again that it takes great political courage for an elected official in this state to raise even the slightest voice of opposition when it comes to the Highway Department, so the fact that the resolution even made it onto the agenda and wasn't voted down immediately speaks volumes. Do what you can to express to our City Directors that we're backing them up.


  1. It's so encouraging to see people in Little Rock work together to slay the beast. Not nearly as backwards as some would have me believe.
    Fight the good fight!