Interstate 11: ADOT Solicits Public Comment – Now Will They Listen?

The Arizona Department of Transportation’s Interstate 11 Study Team held a series of six meetings and a public comment period April 28 – June 2, 2017.  They quietly released the results on their website in early December, http://i11study.com/Arizona/Documents.asp.  The results were overwhelmingly opposed to a new highway around Tucson, with most commenters – 89 percent – favoring either a “No Build” option or use of the existing Interstate 10 corridor rather that building any new highway, especially not in the Avra Valley.

PROGRESS IS A CONSEQUENCE OF THE HUMAN CONDTION…BUT THIS IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO PRESERVE WHAT WE CAN IN THE PROCESS. *

 (* selections from a random sampling of comments)

 ADOT claimed 2302 public comments obtained at the meetings with their survey form, along with email and mail and telephone messages.  That is nearly three times more than were received during the 2016 Public Comment period, 834.  ADOT’s total, high as it is, seriously understated the depth of opposition.  They counted Robin Clark’s petition as one comment, but it had 1390 signatures.  Similarly, postcards from Picture Rocks were counted as two comments, because they were delivered in two batches, but there were 532 different signatories.

I DO NOT LIKE THIS, NO I DON’T.  STOP!  STOP! *

 Counting the comments one by one, and including the postcards and petition, the actual numbers came out to 2881 opposing a new highway through either a “No Build” option, or favoring use of the existing I-10 corridor.  Former ADOT State Engineer Jennifer Toth had told a meeting of the State Transportation Board several years ago that double-decking just six miles of I-10 would do everything they want at 1/3 the cost of a new highway.  One hundred and fifty-six commenters favored a new highway, and 182 comments were either unrelated to the Avra Valley controversy or asked questions without giving an opinion.

ONCE IT IS GONE, THAT’S IT, IT’S GONE.  THERES NO GETTING IT BACK *

 While some of the comments were of a “not in my back yard” tenor, most focused on the peace and quiet of the Avra Valley and the resulting wildlife that shares it with human neighbors.  “Please spare our valley” Was a common theme.  The ADOT Tier 1 Environmental Impact Study planners have narrowed the choices to the existing I-10 corridor, or an Avra Valley route almost identical to the one proposed by Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry five years ago.

CHUCK THE HUCKELBERRY HIGHWAY!  SAVE THE AVRA VALLEY! *

 The Avra Valley route has serious problems.  At Mile Wide and Sandario Roads there is not enough right-of-way between the Tohono O’odham Nation’s Garcia Strip and the federal Bureau of Reclamation’s Tucson Mitigation Corridor, established when the CAP canal was built to facilitate wildlife movement.  Both the San Xavier and Schuk Toak Districts of the Nation have adopted resolutions in opposition to an Avra Valley route, and the feds have so far stood firm.  Huckelberry’s plan is to have the highway elevated there, even though he earlier disparaged the idea of an elevated highway, a double-decked I-10, because it “might fall down in an earthquake, like in San Francisco.”

THIS IS SACRED LAND TO THE TOHONO O’ODHAM NATION.  THE JOBS THAT THE PROJECT WOULD CREATE AND THE SMALL AND QUESTIONABLE TIME SAVING THE NEW HIGHWAY MIGHT GENERATE ARE NOT WORTH THE DESECRATION OF THIS LAND. *

Other critics of any Avra Valley route include Saguaro National Park, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, City of Tucson, Pima Natural Resource and Conservation District, Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, Friends of Ironwood Forest, Citizens for Picture Rocks, Sierra Club, US Bureau of Land Management, Arizona Game and Fish, US Bureau of Reclamation, and US National Park Service.

 FIGHT GOVERNMENT CORRUPTION – REJECT I-11 IN THE AVRA VALLEY *

The Tucson and Marana ADOT I-11 meetings were the most heavily attended of the six, 163 and 202 respectively.  Nogales had 32 attendees, Casa Grande 71, Wickenburg 82, and Buckeye 58.  ADOT survey forms distributed at those meetings showed 68 opposed to a new highway, with 11 in favor and 13 neutral or commenting on other issues.  Mailed comments, not counting the postcards and petition, were 35 to 3 opposed, with 6 unrelated comments.  All signatures were redacted for privacy.

IT IS ABHORRENT TO COMPROMISE ONE OF GOD’S SUPREME CREATIONS OF NATURE IN AVRA VALLEY. *

Emailed comments went 298 to 11, with 72 unrelated, mostly dealing with the northern portions of the proposed highway or complaining about ADOT’s format.  A number had attachments which were not reproduced online.  Telephone comments opposed an Avra Valley route 16 to 1, with 12 other calls that were mostly requests for information.  ADOT put an online map on the web for comment, and those went 542 to 52 opposed to an Avra Valley route, with 79 unrelated comments.  There were also post-it notes placed on maps at the meetings; those require the maps to make any sense and are not included in this analysis but clearly were part of the overwhelming majority in opposition to an Avra Valley route.

NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!  LISTEN TO THE PEOPLE! * 

ADOT wanted public comment, and they got it, probably more than they were expecting and certainly in numbers that had to leave them gasping at the depth of opposition to an Avra Valley route, which is still on the table but “requiring further analysis.”  They will name a “recommended alternative” in mid-2018, with another round of public meetings and comments.  They will then name their “preferred alternative.”

HAVING WORKED FOR ADOT I KNOW YOU ARE REQUIRED TO HAVE PUBLIC MEETINGS BUT ARE NOT REQUIRED TO PAY ANY ATTENTON TO THEM. *

And that, now, is the issue.  Will the I-11 planners actually listen to the people?  Will the local politicians stand with their constituents?  Will the Pima County Board of Supervisors take the County Administrator to task for willfully ignoring BOS Resolution 2007-343 opposing any new interstate in Pima County?   Or, as some believe, is an Avra Valley I-11 a “done deal” and the Tier 1 EIS just $15 million worth of window dressing?

IT IS DISGUSTING THAT YOU PEOPLE WOULD RAPE THE LAND OF ITS BOUNTY AND SERENITY.  WHY DON’T YOU SPEND THE MONEY ON PIMA COUNTY ROADS…THAT NEED TO BE FIXED?  *

So far, the Pima County Board of Supervisors has refused to officially transmit their resolution stating county opposition to any new highway to the ADOT study, allowing Huckelberry’s support for an Avra Valley route to appear as official county policy in the ADOT study record.  The newest member of the Board, Steve Christy, chaired the State Transportation Board when road projects were suspended to generate the $15 million for the three year study.  In March of 2014 Christy sent an email to County staff stating:

“The greatest risk of conducting (the study) is that it will prematurely and unnecessarily stir up all the anti-highway builders, especially in Avra Valley who will get stirred up enough anyway once the EIS is underway giving them more time and reason to activate and hone their skills….”

PLEASE SAVE OUR VALLEY  *

Christy was right.  People are fighting for their homeland, for the peace and serenity of living in a natural world.  As one commenter eloquently wrote:

I am a 63 year old single woman who worked hard to save up the down payment for the acre of land sand home that I own…For the past nine years I have put my heart and soul into that home…I have created a sanctuary for myself and the other creatures that live here…I moved to this location because it is beautiful, peaceful, and quiet, and wildlife abounds here…This completely unnecessary and inappropriate plan to build I-11 in the Avra Valley would destroy the homes and lives of thousands of people just like me.  Good, hardworking, honest people who take pride in their homes.  This plan would destroy our way of life and we will band together to fight it every step of the way.  *

 Note: An earlier story in the Arizona Daily Independent said that ADI stories on the I-11 study had not been posted as part of their media roundup.  We are pleased that those stories have now been posted online as part of the report.

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