Interstate 11 discussions continue in Tucson - The Explorer: Desert Times

Interstate 11 discussions continue in Tucson

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Posted: Wednesday, June 4, 2014 4:00 am | Updated: 10:10 am, Wed Jun 4, 2014.

County officials are taking another look at a proposal that was disagreeable to the Board of Supervisors in 2007.

The potential construction of Interstate 11, a 56-mile stretch of highway that is aimed at connecting Avra Valley to Interstate 10, continues to be a topic of controversy – county officials saying it is necessary for economic growth, and area residents arguing it would impose on their way of living and impact environmentally-sensitive lands.

Those against the project have created a petition group called the Avra Valley Coalition, which finds itself in agreement with a 2007 Board of Supervisors resolution that opposed the construction on the grounds that environmental, historic, and archaeological impacts could not be adequately mitigated. The board’s resolution further called upon then-Governor Janet Napolitano’s office to undertake studies related to expanding capacity along Interstate 10 for multiple modes of travel, including passenger cars, freight, passenger rail, and bicycle.

“There are more sustainable alternatives than what is being proposed,” said Robin Clark, who started the petition. “We can look at things like widening I-10, and we can look at multimodal planning that would ultimately get more vehicles off the current highway. The proposed route would impact so many natural resources.”

Because the highway is in an exploratory phase, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said an exact route has not yet been determined, but acknowledged there are “multiple options from Avra Valley to the existing interstate.”

While studies from the likes of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, and the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection have raised concerns that the highway would negatively affect wildlife and sensitive lands, Huckelberry remains optimistic that a solution could be found with continued planning.

“It’s really far too early to commit to a precise route. What is clear is there are ways to design a route – even one of this magnitude – without substantial impacts on populated areas or sensitive environmental areas,” he said. “It is only through community discussions during this long-term planning process that we can determine exactly what the corridor will look like and what specific route it will take. The bigger question is whether we will get it at all – and that is where we have much work to do.”

To date, the petition against I-11 has received nearly 800 signatures, which serve only to demonstrate community opposition and does not necessarily have any bearing on a future Board of Supervisors’ decision.

Huckelberry’s push for I-11 has much to do with what he says is a critical economic opportunity that would allow the transportation of goods along a north-south route, complementing I-10’s eastbound-westbound interstate.

“Jobs depend on trade,” he said. “Mexico is already Arizona’s largest trading partner, and we can’t take that relationship for granted. We can’t afford to lose out to competition from surrounding states that are already moving forward in shoring up their infrastructure. If we secure stronger trade routes, even more jobs will follow because companies locate where they can ship and receive good efficiently.”

But others like Avra Valley resident Albert Lannon say research shows that the project would ultimately lead to the exportation of jobs to Mexico due to cost effectiveness for manufacturers, and would further exacerbate the drug smuggling problem that currently exists between the Arizona-Mexico border.

“In their discussion of ‘branding’ and ‘marketing’ I-11 to the public and politicians the pitch is “enhancing economic vitality” and ‘commercial opportunities,’” Lannon said. “I-11 is being sold as a way for corporations to make more money. Period. There is no expressed interest in workers except as cheap labor across the border. Concern for workers is also missing in the proposed methods of financing I-11: increased gas taxes, truck tolls, toll roads, and mileage-based user fees, along with general tax dollars.”

Like Clark, Lannon said the answer to increased transportation routes rests with Interstate 10.

“Interstate 11 would disrupt a peaceful area where people have been living for 10,000 years,” said Lannon. “We already have a freeway, and we should look at double-decking that freeway. That seems like a good alternative to me.”

Funding has not yet been identified for the project, but Huckelberry said it would likely cost several billion dollars. A start and finish date has not yet been determined.

“The reality is that we still need to galvanize the voices of our state, community, and business leaders if we want this opportunity to come to fruition,” said Huckelberry.

A final public meeting relating to I-11 will be held on June 18 at Tucson Electric Power’s Community Room, 88 E. Broadway Blvd at 6 p.m. Comments regarding the project can also be made at www.I11study.com.

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