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Cunningham: I-11 is a boondoggle that doesn't benefit Tucson

Bypasses are devices that allow some people to dash from point A to point B very fast while other people dash from point B to point A very fast.

People living at point C, being a point directly in between, are often given to wonder what's so great about point A that so many people from point B are so keen to get there, and what's so great about point B that so many people from point A are so keen to get there. They often wish that people would just once and for all work out where the hell they wanted to be. – Douglas Adams, 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'

My colleagues and I on the Tucson City Council will be hearing a presentation from the Arizona Department of Transportation on the possible Interstate 11 project at Tuesday's meeting.

I-11 is a planned bypass that would run roughly from Casa Grande to Green Valley. I know what you are thinking: "Councilman, can't you already take the freeway from Casa Grande to Green Valley?" Well, this would run far to the west of Tucson and avoid our city.

I'm against it for a whole raft of reasons.

One is that we have a newly vibrant downtown (paid for by Rio Nuevo sales-tax money) and are we are in the middle of a recovery. This bypass would pull traffic (as well as development) far from the city's core. That means economic activity will be drawn away from our city and we'll lose out on spending and tax revenue.

Also, you may have heard me beating the drum over how we lose out on state revenue sharing because of the amount of development outside of incorporated areas. The freeway will encourage more of that development, all of which will be more of a demand on county services we aren't getting compensated for and will be paid for by city residents.

The highway will be perilously close to such natural treasures as the Ironwood Forest National Monument and the Tucson Mountain District of Saguaro National Park, destroying wildlife habitat and making them less desirable places to visit. The county already limits development near those two reserves, but those will not be considered as this highway will go as close to 400 feet from them. It also will cut through now-rural areas and displacing homeowners in places such as the Avra and Altar valleys, as well as the lands of the Tohono O'Odham and Pascua Yaqui.

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This means noise, traffic and pollution in areas of our county that are still relatively wild and natural. The freeway will also cause light pollution which will spoil observations at Kitt Peak, about 20 miles away.

Here's a little piece of irony for you. Decades ago, the Central Arizona Project canal cut across some wildlife corridors between the Tucson Mountains, what is now the Ironwood Forest National Monument and Waterman Mountains. There were concerns brought up by conservationists; to mitigate those impacts the federal government set aside land to be a wildlife corridor. The freeway will cut across that corridor, negating any benefit from any mitigation from the set aside.

If the idea is to get more traffic going between Phoenix and Nogales or El Paso, improvements can be made to I-10 and I-19. In fact, "co-locating" I-11 with these existing freeways will save at least $3.4 billion and provide much needed upgrades to I-19 and I-10. Also some policy changes at Nogales's Mariposa Port of Entry (Such as extending hours or increasing staffing levels) would do a lot to help out with truck traffic up and down the corridor.

In short, I-11 is a boondoggle that doesn't benefit Tucson and doesn't benefit our neighbors in Pima County (unless you happen to be a real estate speculator). We as a city will make our voice heard on this and you can still do that as a citizen until July 8 by going to i11study.com/Arizona.

Paul Cunningham represents Ward 2 on the Tucson City Council.

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4
14 comments
Jun 18, 2019, 9:46 am
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Tucson Mike, you really need to get past the hype and see the facts.  1) I-ll is meant, and the planners say so, to facilitate manufacture and assembly in Mexico, and to attract US companies from China…to Mexico, where wages are lower.  2)  ADOT and the Feds have adopted a memorandum of understanding that allows ADOT to monitor itself on environmental issues for the required Tier 2 Environmental Impact Study. 3)  Improving I-10 costs billions less, with far less damage.  4)  The 25,000 people who live in the Avra Valley and would be negatively impacted—and we are not chopped liver!

3
2 comments
Jun 16, 2019, 7:11 pm
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We shouldn’t destroy the desert and develop the pristine area west of Saguaro National Park. Our proximity to well preserved natural beauty is what makes Tucson unique. We don’t want to become another Phoenix.

2
2 comments
Jun 16, 2019, 7:08 pm
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Great points, thank you for writing this. Building a noisy intrusive highway a few hundred feet away from the signature hiking trails in Saguaro National Park would be a disgrace. Tucson is the closest major city to a National Park in the entire country and we need to take care of it.

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