|Environmental Review Toolkit|
|NEPA and Project
|Section 4(f)||Water, Wetlands,
|Planning and Environment Linkages|
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Little Rock and North Little Rock, Arkansas: 30 Crossing PEL Study
In April 2014, the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) began planning a highway construction project on Interstate 30 (I-30) in Little Rock and North Little Rock, Arkansas. Also referred to as the 30 Crossing Project, it is one of the largest projects AHTD has ever embarked upon. The agency's staff knew they would need to employ innovative project delivery methods to complete the planning, environmental review, and permitting steps in a tight timeframe.
AHTD chose to implement its first Planning and Environment Linkages (PEL) study to integrate the planning and environmental review processes in order to streamline the project development process and begin construction sooner. The PEL study helped AHTD identify the purpose and need for improvements within the 30 Crossing PEL study area, conduct robust public outreach to understand the needs of the surrounding communities as well as the region as a whole, determine possible viable alternatives for a long-term solution, and recommend alternatives that could be carried seamlessly into National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) studies. The PEL study provided an opportunity for AHTD to better integrate the planning and environmental review processes and carry out the work it would need to complete for a NEPA study much earlier in the planning process.
The I-30 Corridor runs approximately 6.7 miles through Little Rock and North Little Rock, Arkansas. The 30 Corridor Project is the largest project to be implemented under the Connecting Arkansas Program (CAP). Source: AHTD
The 30 Crossing Project is part of a larger initiative called the Connecting Arkansas Program (CAP). CAP is a ten-year, highway construction program that was funded by a half-cent sales tax increase passed in 2012. The 30 Crossing Project is the largest project to be implemented under CAP.
The I-30 Corridor runs approximately 6.7 miles through portions of Little Rock and North Little Rock, Arkansas. Prior to its decision to implement a PEL study, AHTD identified five specific issues to be addressed by the 30 Crossing Project:
The PEL study was a critical tool for tackling these five issues by creating a link between past, current, and future transportation decisions and shortening the amount of time needed to enter the design and construction phase.
During the initial stage of the 30 Crossing PEL study, a number of additional goals for the area were identified that provided guidance for the future alternatives development process. These included improving connectivity, enhancing mobility, improving system reliability, optimizing opportunities for economic development, improving safety, and many others.
For the first time, AHTD decided to utilize a Design-Build method to deliver the 30 Crossing Project. Design-Build is a method of project delivery in which the design and construction phases of a project are combined into one contract, which allows for reduction of overall project cost and duration. The PEL study was a valuable tool in ensuring that issues were raised and addressed early in the planning process so that the contractor would not face unforeseen obstacles throughout the design and construction phase.
AHTD hired a consulting firm to assist in carrying out the 30 Crossing PEL study. The firm had prior experience with PEL studies and was able to walk AHTD and the FHWA Arkansas Division Office through the process. AHTD and the consulting firm developed a Framework and Methodology at the beginning of the PEL study to formalize the scope, schedule, and expectations for the study as well as help foster proactive working relationships between the agencies involved.
AHTD created a Technical Oversight Committee (TOC) that was mainly composed of division chiefs at AHTD and staff from the FHWA Arkansas Division Office. AHTD staff believe that the TOC was an effective vehicle for streamlining the decision making process, as the committee was able to make high-level decisions and then clearly convey those decisions to the consulting firm. In addition, a Technical Work Group of over 35 local, State, and Federal agencies regularly met before public meetings to provide technical input and expertise to the TOC. The Technical Work Group members were diverse, consisting of State environmental protection and resource agencies, Metroplan (the metropolitan planning organization for the Little Rock area), local school districts, railroads, and others with an interest in the corridor. AHTD also included the U.S. Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers in the Technical Work Group because of their regulatory oversight of the Arkansas River and River Bridge. The group typically met before public meetings to proactively inform each other of project developments and address pending issues in order to keep the public well informed and receive their comments in a timely, organized manner.
The 30 Crossing PEL study allowed AHTD to incorporate substantially more input from the public than the agency otherwise would do for a typical highway construction project. AHTD organized a twelve-person Stakeholder Advisory Group as one method for gathering public input. The Stakeholder Advisory Group was composed of four civilian representatives each from Pulaski County, Little Rock, and North Little Rock. This group met monthly to provide feedback on the alternatives that AHTD was considering. For a large transportation project that is not part of a PEL study, AHTD typically holds two or three public meetings and one public hearing throughout the course of the planning, environmental review, and design phases. The PEL study helped AHTD conduct increased public engagement for the 30 Crossing Project; six public meetings were held as of January 2016.
At the beginning of the 30 Crossing PEL study, 43 alternatives were considered, and options deemed unreasonable were eliminated using a three-level process of qualitative and quantitative analyses. At Level 3, microsimulation models were used to quantitatively evaluate the recommended three alternatives on proposed performance. Through this data-intensive method, the 10-Lane with Downtown C/D alternative was the PEL recommended alternative to be advanced to NEPA for further analysis. AHTD completed its PEL study in July 2015, and the 30 Crossing Project is scheduled to begin construction in 2018 and be completed by 2023.
Assisting the Environmental Review Process
AHTD used components of the PEL study to thoroughly identify the issues that would need to be addressed in the NEPA process, from purpose and need of the project to environmental justice and design concerns. Assessing these concerns early on allowed AHTD to better integrate NEPA considerations and develop a concept that considered and achieved more public input, which led to more informed recommendations for the NEPA process.
Proactive Consideration Allowing a Flexible Evaluation of Alternatives
At an early public meeting, meeting participants were provided with an aerial map of the I-30 corridor and invited to mark problematic areas and suggest solutions to resolve them. All of the public's suggestions were considered as project alternatives. Source: AHTD
Enhanced Community Involvement
Improved Relationships and Coordination
AHTD hired a consulting firm to conduct the PEL study for approximately $2 million, which was sourced from CAP funds. The extensive information compiled throughout the PEL study process allowed the agency to have a better idea of total project costs and adjust the budget as the project continued. The 30 Crossing project is approximately five times larger than any other project AHTD has ever embarked upon, and implementing the PEL study allowed the agency to not only tackle such a large project but do so with confidence that construction cost estimates would be reliable.
VI. Next Steps