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Epic I-30 Makeover Gearing to Go Through LR-NLR Urban CorridorLock Icon

5 min read

An epic construction project that will reshape the heart of the Arkansas highway system looms large even though orange barrels and concrete barriers won’t appear for more than a year.

Widening a 6.7-mile section of Interstate 30 that runs through the middle of the state’s largest metropolitan area alone represents a monumental task.

Increasing the magnitude of the project is its centerpiece: replacing the busiest highway bridge in the state, where the daily count of vehicles crossing the Arkansas River between Little Rock and North Little Rock averages 125,000.

Ben Browning, design-build project director at the Arkansas Highway & Transportation Department, sums up what makes the endeavor especially significant in two words: “the scale.”

The construction costs are expected to weigh in at between $525 million and $575 million, making 30 Crossing the largest single contract by far in the history of Arkansas highway construction.

That’s more than twice the combined total of the two largest Arkansas highway construction contracts to date: the $100 million Springdale Bypass in northwest Arkansas and the $98.2 million Broadway Bridge connecting Little Rock and North Little Rock. In addition to its enormity, 30 Crossing will be the first-ever Arkansas highway project undertaken through a design-build process. Instead of the traditional design-bid-build format, six competing ventures are making their pitch to design and build the project.

The AHTD, to be renamed the Arkansas Department of Transportation at the end of this month, will do up to 30 percent of the design to set the alignment of the roadwork.

“We say we give them a sandbox to play in,” Browning said of providing borders and an outline for the project. “They get to choose how they accomplish the work best with their techniques as long as everything meets specifications set by AHTD.”

The design-build method has grown in favor across the national highway scene when a project is complex and the work needs to get done quickly.

“Both of those variables are in play with 30 Crossing,” Browning said.

Details of how contractors intend to minimize the disruption of traffic and expedite the construction timetable will be fleshed out in the coming months.

Hard hats could begin populating the urban corridor before the end of 2018, working toward a completed project in 2022 or 2023 based on recent estimates.

The overall cost of 30 Crossing carries a very round estimate of $650 million when planning, environmental studies, relocating utilities, right-of-way acquisition, hiring a consultant to oversee the project and contingencies are included in the tally.

Funding is split 64/36 between state and federal money. The Arkansas portion flows from the Connecting Arkansas Program, financed with a 10-year, 0.5 percent sales tax. 30 Crossing is one of 35 projects around the state backed with CAP revenue to expand two-lane and four-lane roadways.

“It’s a very exciting project and moves the corridor into 21st century transportation in terms of accessibility, mobility and safety,” said Danny Straessle, AHTD spokesman.

Much of the elbow room for the project is already in hand thanks to property purchased for the original I-30 construction more than 50 years ago.

Needed right-of-way for the 30 Crossing is expected to seriously slice into three Little Rock properties on the east side of I-30 along Rector Street between Third and Sixth streets:

  • A 45,600-SF warehouse complex at 806 E. Fourth St. owned by Little Rock Newspapers Inc., led by Walter Hussman Jr.
  • A vacant block, bound by Collins Street on the east, Fourth Street on the north, Rector Street on the west and East Capitol Avenue on the south, owned by Artisan on Collins LLC, led by Rusty Thompson of McGehee.
  • A 7,350-SF warehouse at 505 Rector St. owned by Moon Distributors Inc., led by Stan Hastings.

These properties represent the biggest ticket items in a short list of right-of-way acquisitions needed for the expanded corridor.

Even the empty block carries a sizable price tag, north of $18 per SF based on a November transaction. Nine months ago, Thompson paid $1.7 million for the 2.1-acre site, where he intends to develop a mixed-use project on most of the south half of the property.

The latest plans call for surface parking to support 53 apartments on the upper three floors and a small amount of commercial space on the ground floor.

“We’re still excited about the project and are moving forward,” Thompson said. “We’re taking the worst-case scenario that the Highway Department will take the west 60 feet of the property.”

Future development of the north half of the property is tied to the market reception of the Artisan on Collins project.

“We’ll either sell it or build a phase two of the apartments,” Thompson said. “It just depends on how popular they are and how fast they rent up.”

Arkansas Golf & Powersports holds a long-term lease on the 505 Rector St. warehouse. That situation adds a layer of complexity to an eminent domain acquisition by the Highway Department that will involve buying out the lease as well as the real estate purchase.

“The way I understand it, they have to negotiate with the tenant to get them out of the building because the lease goes with the property,” said Stan Hastings, president of Moon Distributors. “I’ve never been involved with a condemnation with a property like this. What we have is a commercial building that we own, which is leased to another company.

“The lease goes with the land, and the tenant is paying market rate rent for the property that includes escalations and options to renew.”

The re-imagining of the interstate corridor will leave its mark on neighboring property. The banter continues in some quarters on whether the coming changes will be for the better or worse even as the project details are sorting out.

The AHTD held six formal hearings and about 150 meetings in small group settings to give the project a public airing and discuss the possibilities. The forums sometimes hosted tense and emotional commentary.

“The whole process has been good,” Browning said. “Merge engineering solutions with the human factor — we don’t have as good of a project as we have without that.”

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