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Possibility of Avra Valley interstate highway route revs up concerns

Robin Clark says Avra Valley’s clean air, dark skies and abundant wildlife make the area northwest of Tucson a special place to live.

“It’s one of the last places you can go in Tucson to see what the desert used to look like,” she said.

Last week, those concerns drew Clark to an Arizona Department of Transportation hearing on Interstate 11, a proposed commerce and trade route from Las Vegas through northern Arizona and the Phoenix area to a border crossing with Mexico.

While the route hasn’t been established, a Pima County study that in July suggested bypassing Tucson through Avra Valley prompted Clark to launch an online petition against that idea. The petition now has been signed by nearly 700 people.

Russell Lowes, energy chairman for the Sierra Club Rincon Group, said putting an I-11 bypass west of the Tucson Mountains would lead to urban sprawl next to Saguaro National Park.

“It would create new areas of population, destroying wild areas that don’t need to be developed at this point,” he said.

Lowes and Clark said they aren’t opposed to the goals behind I-11 but contend they can be accomplished by expanding I-10 and I-19 through Tucson.

Clark said that in addition to creating air, light and noise pollution in her neighborhood, an interstate through Avra Valley would ruin views from the nearby Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

“I don’t think residents and visitors would be too happy if they knew that if they stood at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and looked west, instead of seeing the beautiful and open Avra Valley they saw an interstate freeway in the view,” she said.

Studying broad corridors as wide as 50 miles, ADOT hasn’t identified specific routes for any part of the project but has eliminated corridors near Yuma and Douglas. The current study is scheduled to be completed next year.

The feasibility of specific routes, including those in the Tucson region, will be determined by studies that have yet to be commissioned, ADOT spokeswoman Laura Douglas said.

“We’ll get more specific as we go along,” she said. “What we hope to have at the end of this study is recommended alternatives, which are still options at this point. We won’t have a specific line drawn on a map at the end of this study.”

In July, a study by the Pima County Department of Transportation suggested a route through Avra Valley and connecting with I-19 south of Tucson. In a letter describing the proposal, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry pointed to regional planning by the Pima Association of Governments estimating that congestion on I-10 and I-19 will be categorized as “severe” or “extremely severe” by 2040.

Joe Snell, president and CEO of Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities Inc., or TREO, called expanding freeway capacity from Phoenix through Nogales critical to the region’s economy.

“That interstate will move goods and services from Mexico,” Snell said. “It allows Tucson to really play as an inter-modal facility, to further transfer those goods whether they be by rail, by truck or by air cargo to different places in the United States.”

Snell said that products from Mexico will come to the U.S. through California or Texas if capacity isn’t expanded here.

“Companies that were doing business in China, India are moving manufacturing much closer to the United States,” he said. “It’s the new economic reality.”

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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2 comments on this story

2
1763 comments
Oct 17, 2013, 4:12 pm
-3 +2

It is thinking like this that keeps this community decades behind others in so many ways. You want views or you want jobs? You can’t have it both ways.

Besides, your hippy types don’t have much to worry about. Due to today’s unfortunate work ethic amongst folks who do road improvements, I-11 would never be completed in the lifetime of anyone reading this today. Think about it…recent I-10 construction has shown us that it takes about a year to complete a mile of freeway. Since I-11 would be something like 400 miles…well, you do the math. I mean, come on…we’ve been waiting since the early 1980’s for Aviation Highway to connect to I-10.

1
116 comments
Oct 17, 2013, 3:38 pm
-0 +4

How about impact on Kitt Peak?  Whipple?  I’m all for a truck route bypass for commercial traffic, but…maybe expand the RAIL SYSTEM instead of all of these single engine vehicles?

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Andrew Knochel/Cronkite News Service

A study by Pima County suggests that the proposed Interstate 11 connecting Las Vegas with the Phoenix area and the border bypass Tucson through Avra Valley.