With the Arizona Department of Transportation’s Interstate 11 study now in its second of three years, skeptics are questioning how much public involvement ADOT really wants? The National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process requires public involvement – information, meetings, and comments – for projects such as I-11 to move forward. First came the Corridor Justification Study, and now the three-year, $15 million, Tier 1 Environmental Impact Study to identify a “preferred alternative” route.
Now in its second year, the upcoming round of public meetings is supposed to gather input about a number of “reasonable alternatives” for the highway. ADOT says “the alternatives were developed as part of the environmental study based on: Input from the agency and public scoping meetings held in 2016; Technical analysis; Findings from previous studies; and Public comment through postal mail, email, telephone and the I-11 website.”
However, a review of the comments (available on the i11study.com website) from the 2016 meetings shows overwhelming opposition from hundreds of people to I-11 or to I-11 through the Avra Valley, the route favored publically by Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.
Opponents cite I-11’s stated intent to send jobs to Mexico as well as the loss of jobs along I-10 and negative impacts on tourism and parks. The effects of air and noise pollution, along with increased smuggling, on the communities and wildlife of the rural Avra Valley would ruin the area for all time.
Among those leading the opposition are the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, National Parks Conservation Association, Friends of Ironwood Forest, and the Avra Valley Coalition. They are calling for a large public turnout to the latest round of meetings despite ADOT’s apparent efforts to limit actual involvement.
Critics point out that there has been little media promotion of the meetings, which start in Tucson May 2, aside from a handful of early small ads that are easily overlooked by newspaper readers. Materials scheduled to be posted online for review Friday, April 28, actually went up after close of business, with ADOT Community Relations Project Manager Laura Douglas notifying interested parties at 5:46 p.m. by email.
While the posterboards will show three alternative routes in the Tucson area, the two overlapping routes in the Avra Valley are listed as “undergoing additional analysis,” which likely means that they won’t really be discussed at the meetings. The third alternative, the existing I-10 highway, remains on the table because of public pressure opposing any Avra Valley routes. ADOT’s own numbers have shown that double-decking just six miles of I-10, from Ruthrauff to I-19, would accomplish their goals at 1/3 the cost.
Both Avra Valley alternatives face a serious problem fitting between the Tohono O’odham Nation’s Garcia Strip and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Wildlife Mitigation Corridor, established when the CAP canal was built to allow wildlife, such as bighorn sheep, to safely cross the valley from mountain range to mountain range. There is an 80-foot right-of-way between them, with I-11 needing at least 400 feet. Chuck Huckelberry has proposed using the existing right-of-way as an anchor for an elevated highway in the Mile Wide and Sandario Roads area. Neither the Bureau of Reclamation nor the Nation has shown any willingness to give up land for I-11..
The scheduled I-11 public meetings are:
- Tuesday, May 2: Arizona Riverpark Inn, 777 W. Cushing St., Tucson;
- Wednesday, May 3: Marana Middle School – cafeteria, 11285 W. Grier Road, Marana:
- Thursday, May 4: Nogales High School – cafeteria, 1905 N. Apache Blvd., Nogales:
- Wednesday, May 10: Dorothy Powell Senior Adult Center – dining room, 405 E. Sixth St., Casa Grande;
- Thursday, May 11: Wickenburg Community Center, 160 N. Valentine St., Wickenburg;
- Tuesday, May 16: Buckeye Community Center – multipurpose room, 201 E. Centre Ave., Buckeye.
All meetings, which will have an open house format, run from 5 to 7 p.m., with presentations beginning at approximately 5:15 p.m. Following the presentations, study team members will be available to answer questions; i.e. no public discussion, no open forum.
Comments can be made on comment cards at the meetings, or online at i11study.com/Arizona, with a 500 character limit. Characters include periods, commas, spaces, etc. Comments can also be sent to:
Toll-free bilingual telephone hotline: 1-844-544-8049;
Mail: Interstate 11 Tier 1 EIS Study Team, c/o ADOT Communications
1655 W. Jackson St., Mail Drop 126F, Phoenix, AZ 85007