LITTLE ROCK, Ark.—Interstate Highway 30 runs over the Arkansas River. Every day 126,000 cars travel along it, to North Little Rock and suburbs farther afield. Things usually run smoothly, but some days, traffic builds up around rush hour. Also, the Federal Highway Administration has declared the bridge to be structurally deficient. For these reasons, state planners want to tear down the existing six-lane freeway and erect in its place a behemoth: a 10-lane highway.
This is happening at a time when a revitalization of the River Market district, located on the Arkansas River just beside the highway, is starting to take hold. Condos are popping up in the area, next to pubs and restaurants and book stores, creating a type of walkable downtown area that hasn’t been present in Little Rock for decades.
Little Rock’s Tim McKuin says that the highway expansion will end that revival. He is so opposed to this proposal that he created a group, Improve 30 Crossing, to fight against it. He says a 10-lane freeway would harm the wetlands near the river and cause noise and pollution harmful to nearby residents. (An initial plan sought to make the highway 12 lanes.) “They say, ‘For future success, we have to bring more and more cars to downtown Little Rock,’ but it’s already dominated by parking,” he told me, as we walked through the River Market district and restaurants and bars brimming with people on a spring night. “If we bring 50,000 more cars a day it’s going to be harder for this area to expand.”
Half a century ago, urban planners pushed for the erection of freeways through the downtowns of major cities across America. The idea was to make it easier for residents to travel between cities and from inner cities to the suburbs. These projects often included “urban renewal” efforts that tore up poor, historically black neighborhoods, and replaced them with office buildings and parking lots. Little Rock had one such neighborhood, Ninth Street, which now sits across the highway from the River Market district and is all but abandoned, with one original building remaining. That building hosts a business that is selling decals, pennants, and American and Confederate flags.