I-30 Crossing Project Stays in High Gear Despite Criticism


30 Crossing is in full swing on the Little Rock side of the river. Much of the ground equipment for the $1.1 billion effort came from Riggs Caterpillar.
30 Crossing is in full swing on the Little Rock side of the river. Much of the ground equipment for the $1.1 billion effort came from Riggs Caterpillar. (Jason Burt)

The largest highway project in state history is on time despite several detours, including one at the intersection of arithmetic and law:

It seems you can’t build a 10-lane interstate with money earmarked for “four-lane highways.”

But the Arkansas Department of Transportation found ways to keep paying for the $1.15 billion project, changing funding lanes to widen Interstate 30 through Little Rock and North Little Rock and cross the Arkansas River with a new freeway bridge.

The project’s first phase, a $620 million chunk, runs 6.7 miles from Interstate 530 in Little Rock to Interstate 40 in North Little Rock.

Over more than a year and a half, COVID-defiant construction crews have completed the substructure of the first of two new I-30 spans across the river, the project’s most visible feature. The eastbound lanes of the bridge are expected to open in August, and the entire $620 million first phase of the project is on schedule.

“30 Crossing is the largest construction project ever undertaken by ArDOT,” Public Information Officer Dave Parker said. With a Phase 1 contract of $540 million, now expanded, the work is three times the cost of the state’s second most expensive project, a $187 million widening of I-30 in Saline County due to be completed this year.

“The original 30 Crossing project budget was $540 million. An additional $80M of federal funds with state match have been added to increase the scope of the work,” Parker said. The goals included replacing an I-30 bridge deemed “structurally deficient” by the Federal Highway Administration, adding traffic capacity and improving interchanges to ease congestion. The work will also replace aging pavement in a stretch traveled by about 125,000 vehicles a day. The project’s estimated completion date is in July 2025. “We are currently on schedule,” Parker said, adding that the state is offering contractors no financial incentives for early completion.

Still, a legal question about sales tax proceeds pledged to the project required some gear-shifting.

A view from the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge frames the construction against the Little Rock skyline.
A view from the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge frames the construction against the Little Rock skyline. (Jason Burt)


Sales Tax Dispute

In early 2020, Metroplan — central Arkansas’ metropolitan planning organization — proposed committing $350 million to the project from proceeds of Amendment 91, a half-percent state sales tax on gasoline that was made permanent by Arkansas voters in November 2020.

But the state Supreme Court ruled that year that the state cannot spend those tax proceeds on roads with more than four lanes. Parts of the I-30 corridor will be six lanes in each direction, and the justices took the number of lanes seriously as a legal question.

“No changes to the scope of work resulted from the lawsuits,” Parker said. “However, half-cent sales tax proceeds originally designated for the project have been replaced with federal and state funds.”

The half-cent tax raises $230 million or so each year, with 70% going to the ArDOT and the rest divided among counties and municipalities.

Construction began in September 2020 after a federal judge in Little Rock dismissed injunctions sought by neighborhood associations opposed to the project. Critics see the project as a boondoggle, a costly traffic fix that won’t last, citing studies finding that most interstate widening work decongests choke points only for a few years.

Naysayers also argue that in a modern climate and energy crisis, Arkansas needs more bike trails and public transit, not wider freeways to attract more internal combustion engines. Other objections included disruptions the construction and demolition visited on Little Rock’s River Market District, the popular downtown row of shops, restaurants and hotels bisected by I-30.

Two years of construction have taken a toll on the grounds of the Clinton Presidential Center east of the project on the Little Rock side, disrupted traffic and public parking along Second Street and led to complaints from downtown dwellers and businesses.

“The goals … are to improve mobility on the corridor to accommodate the expected increase in traffic demand, improve roadway safety, improve navigational safety on the Arkansas River, and to correct structural and functional roadway and bridge deficiencies,” Parker said.

Work continues on ramps and the bridge approach on the Little Rock side.
Work continues on ramps and the bridge approach on the Little Rock side. (Jason Burt)


Joint Venture

The 30 Crossing general contractor is Kiewit Massman Construction of Little Rock, a joint venture of Kiewit Corp. of Omaha, Nebraska, and Massman Construction of Overland Park, Kansas. It won the design-build contract over five other bidders in January 2019. It has about 150 craft workers on the project now, a number that rises to about 200 at peak construction.

“Kiewit Massman is a one-off joint venture for this one job,” said Kevin Swaving, a Kiewit veteran who is project engineer for 30 Crossing. “We’re on schedule and kind of where we expected to be. One big milestone, you probably saw last week, is that we opened Ninth Street in Little Rock and tore down the Sixth Street bridge. Over the big river, we’ve got all of what we call the substructure up, and we have all the steel up on the main bridge unit.”

In late summer, traffic will be directed onto the new eastbound span, Swaving said. “It will take a few steps to get all the traffic switched onto the new bridges. Basically the job is built one half at a time. In very simplistic terms, we’re building the eastbound side first, and once the traffic is all switched to that, we’ll tear down the old bridge and do it all over again.”

30 Crossing
by the Numbers


150-200 construction workers    

90,000 cubic yards of concrete    

174,000 tons of asphalt  

22,400 tons structural steel    

9,190 tons of rebar    

305,000 SF of walls

272,000 cubic yards of embankments   

Crews have faced few surprises, he said. “There’s always challenges, but there hasn’t been anything really unexpected here,” Swaving told Arkansas Business in a telephone interview. “The river cooperated pretty well, and this being a design-build job, COVID struck early on when we were doing a good chunk of the design work. It changed how we did business early on, but it actually did not slow us down at all. We kind of conquered that one.”

Much of the heavy ground equipment for the job was bought new from Riggs Caterpillar of Little Rock. River-based cranes were sourced from Massman’s equipment inventory. The project will consume 90,000 cubic yards of concrete, nearly 175,000 tons of asphalt and 22,400 tons of structural steel.

“In addition to Kiewit Massman, numerous local contractors and suppliers are performing work on the project,” Parker said. They include paving contractor Cranford Construction Co. of North Little Rock, highway striper Contractors Specialty Service of Little Rock, Time Striping Inc. of Little Rock, W&W/Afco Steel and Total Erosion Control Inc. of McRae (White County).

Terracon Consultants Inc. of Alexander and Volkert Inc. of Mobile, Alabama, another engineering consulting firm, have placed construction inspectors onsite.

ArDOT’s project engineer is Keli Wylie, the department’s alternative project delivery administrator, and another department engineer and a lead inspector are helping to oversee construction.

Work continues on ramps and the bridge approach on the Little Rock side.

The bridge project over the Arkansas River is the most costly and prominent element of 30 Crossing.
The bridge project over the Arkansas River is the most costly and prominent element of 30 Crossing. (Jason Burt)

The project’s steady progress has been welcome, planners say, not least because its costs were underestimated from the start.

When talks convened in 2014, the budget was set at $632 million, but the lowest bid came in at $967 million, and Kiewit Massman computed the total at close to $1 billion.

Certain elements of the project were sacrificed and the work was broken into two phases to accommodate a smaller $540 million Phase 1 contract. The $40 million in federal highway funding and state match got the first phase budget up to $620 million.

That total included more than $50 million to install a ramp giving Little Rock motorists access to westbound Interstate 630 via the southbound I-30 frontage road. Other pieces of the first phase involved reconstruction of I-30 from East Ninth Street in Little Rock to Bishop Lindsey Avenue in North Little Rock, removing the Cantrell Road interchange in Little Rock and building a new interchange between Fourth Street in Little Rock and the I-630 intersection. The I-30 and Broadway interchange is being rebuilt in North Little Rock.

Phase 2 envisions a new ramp from I-30 westbound to I-630 West in Little Rock, a flyover from Interstate 40 westbound to I-30 westbound in North Little Rock, and a widening of the interstate over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks in North Little Rock.

The funding mix includes federal bridge-building and road funds and an injection from ArDOT’s $1.8 billion Connecting Arkansas Program, focusing on regionally crucial work across the state.

Metroplan, led by a board representing local governments in Pulaski, Faulkner, Saline, Lonoke and Grant counties, has declared 30 Crossing its “primary regional priority.”

Garver LLC, the North Little Rock engineering firm that helps ArDOT coordinate nearly 20 projects in the Connecting Arkansas portfolio, is providing inspectors and a resident engineer to oversee the 30 Crossing work.

Just last week, Wylie, of ArDOT, posted on Twitter praising the construction team’s efficiency in taking down the Sixth Street overpass and reopening the freeway. “Less than 31 hours after Kiewit Massman closed Interstate 30 to demo the 6th Street overpass, all lanes are reopened and traffic is flowing. Great job by this crew!”

30 Crossing is in full swing on the Little Rock side of the river. Much of the ground equipment for the $1.1 billion effort came from Riggs Caterpillar.


Arkansas Department of Transportation
Largest Project Contracts to Date

Job No.

Job Name

Contract Amount

Completion

CA0602

I-530-Hwy 67 and 30 Crossing Phase 1

$540 Million

July 2025*

CA0601

Hwy 70-Sevier St., widening I-30, Saline Co.

$187 Million

late 2022*

CA0907

Hwy 112-I-49 Springdale Bypass

$101 Million

2018

BB0610

New 1-40 White River Bridge, Prairie Co.

$100.6 Million

2021

061275

Approach to Broadway Bridge, Little Rock

$98.4 Million

2017

*Projected date
Source: Arkansas Department of Transportation