Interstate 11 Planners Hit The Wall In Picture Rocks

Citizens for Picture Rocks hears from ADOT I-11 Study Manager Jay Van Echo (Far right, with microphone). Standing next to him are C4PR President Della Grove and Secretary Dorothy Banks.

It was standing room only as over 100 area residents crowded into the Picture Rocks Community Center August 21 for the month’s regular Citizens for Picture Rocks (C4PR) meeting. The guest speaker was Jay Van Echo, Study Manager for the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) and Federal Highway Administration’s (FWHA) Interstate 11 Tier One Environmental Impact Statement. The $15 million study, in its second year, has narrowed its choices to either a new Avra Valley highway, which would impact some 25,000 people living in the Avra Valley, or working within the existing Interstate 10 corridor with widening or double decking small portions. There is also a rarely invoked No Build option.

With Van Echo were FHWA Deputy Aryan Lirange and ADOT press agent Laura Douglas. An invitation had been accepted for Van Echo to speak at a C4PR meeting exactly one year ago, but the Study Manager bailed out at the last minute. Unlike the ADOT/FHWA public meetings where no discussion or questions were allowed from the floor, C4PR President Della Grove had a list of prepared questions and accepted questions and comments from the audience, asking only that they use the microphone so everyone could hear them, and that they be respectful.

Van Echo began with a history of the I-11 study, citing talk of a “Canamex Corridor” going back to 1991, followed by NAFTA in 1994, through the 2015 FAST Act where Arizona Senator John McCain’s pro-I-11 amendment was added. No funding has yet been identified for I-11 in Arizona. The ADOT representative stressed that the Tier One Study was “a deliberative document and not a decision document.” It is no secret that ADOT and FHWA have favored an Avra Valley route from the beginning.

They expect to announce a “preferred alternative” by the end of the year and will then move into how to make that choice work. A Tier 2 study would then work on specific alignments within the chosen corridor, working within a 400-foot right-of-way instead of a 2000-foot corridor. One problem is that there is only an 80-foot right-of-way in the Mile Wide-Sandario area, with the Tohono O’odham’s Garcia Strip on one side and the Federal Bureau of Reclamation‘s Wildlife Mitigation Corridor on the other. That corridor was established “in perpetuity” when the CAP canal was built. Van Echo said they were meeting with both parties “to see what we can work out”.

There were many questions and comments, all respectful and all clearly opposed to I-11 coming through the Avra Valley. Concerns covered air, water and light pollution, creation of a new Valley Fever corridor, exporting jobs to Mexico contrary to national policy, wildlife movement, loss of jobs in the I-10 corridor, increased smuggling, and “conspiracy and collusion” between the I-11 planners and Pima County.

That concern was bolstered by citing the county administrator’s support for an Avra Valley I-11 in direct violation of the Board of Supervisors resolution, by some 1500 acres along the “Huckelberry Highway” being owned by Cardon family businesses, by Diamond Ventures getting a free access highway, renamed the “Sonoran Corridor,” for a planned Swan Southlands development and Don Diamond being on the late Wil Cardon’s campaign committee as well as raising thousands of dollars for Supervisor Sharon Bronson’s last election, and by reports that land owners in the Avra Valley I-11 path were seeing assessed valuations going down while others went up, presumably to save the county money when eviction time comes. District 3 resident JoAnn di Filippo, who owns a horse ranch south of Picture Rocks, said those reports had been verified.

Van Echo avoided some, said others would be addressed in the forthcoming document, and attempted to joke off others. One of Van Echo’s slides showed projected increases in travel time along the Wickenburg-Nogales route. It was noted that, by 2040, travel time from Tucson to Nogales could increase as much as two minutes. That was duly noted by audience members.

[caption id="attachment_160629" align="aligncenter" width="770"] Avra Valley Coalition activists Jo Bowman (standing), Paul Hamilton and Robin Clark asked about maps showing the properties that would be affected.  After waffling, Van Echo said the maps would be available in December.

When told that County Administrator Charles Huckelberry’s plan for I-11 called for the eviction of 47 families, Van Echo quipped that they would be “impacted, not evicted…it depends on whether you have a motivated buyer or a motivated seller.” Asked about the President’s goals to bring jobs back to America and I-11’s Business Case to attract jobs to Mexico, the Study Manager said that “Mexico is America’s number one trade partner…if there’s a wall, there will be gates.” He added that ADOT was working with Mexican planners. But Van Echo “could not recall” when asked about the City of Tucson’s position on I-11 but remembered after being prompted that Tucson supported improving the I-10 corridor and had concerns about potential CAP settling pond pollution.

When asked if the Study Team would pay attention to the “thousands of comments” opposing I-11 in the Avra Valley, if there was a threshold for making decisions, he said, “No…all voices are equal.” In fact, 89 percent of over 3000 comments opposed an Avra Valley I-11, with only ½ of one percent in favor.

With the “preferred alternative” to be announced by the end of the year, there will be a series of public meetings likely in January, and will include Tucson and Marana locations. Van Echo agreed to open them up to public questions and comments rather than a speech followed by one-on-one comments to staff. He also agreed to seek better days and times so that more people could participate. A final decision will be made by the federal government after studies are completed. He said also that “there’s no definite plan at this stage…we don’t build roads if they’re not really needed.” The audience groaned in disbelief.

Many in the audience looked skeptical as the I-11 Study Manager responded to questions.

Citizens for Picture Rocks, a 17-year-old 501 (c) (4) community group, had complained to the planners about not being invited to a recent series of “Stakeholder Engagement Meetings” which many saw as a ploy to make the 89 percent and the ½ of one percent somehow equal, but which came out instead with a strong statement opposing an Avra Valley I-11 and calling for improvements on I-10. Van Echo said the invitation had been sent to Pamela Moseley, former C4PR president. Moseley, a Pima County employee, said she had no memory of ever receiving such an invitation.

For I-11 study reports, summaries and raw documents, visit Comments may be submitted at any time.

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  1. I like the I-8 solution proposed by JS. Makes a lot of sense to me and would likely be completed much more quickly and economically than the proposed I-11 project.

    • Not on the table, along with other possible alternatives that were rejected. Only possible routes under consideration, with a decision by the end of the year, are expansion of I-10 or a new Avra Valley I-11 highway. Or the rarely-used No Build option.

  2. What, Again (commenter above), how ignorant are you and what on God’s green earth are you talking about? The citizens of Tucson, including Picture Rocks, are simply stating that we want to improve the I-10/I-19 corridor, which in turn will help bolster the Tucson economy and avoid destroying the rural dynamic of the Avra Valley and damaging the appeal and integrity of the protected lands out there. A bypass of Tucson will draw business away from Tucson proper and allow commuters to completely bypass the city. How does that benefit Tucson citizens? And the intention of ADOT isn’t to boost the economy out in the Avra Valley either–I guarantee you cannot find any documentation that states that is the case, we have asked ADOT officials numerous times for such details. So please, inform yourself and help the movement of people trying to improve our city. It’s a lot more productive than whining about a false narrative.

    • The entire purpose of this is to AVOID I-10 and Tucson because the No-Growth Liberal Whackos have shown they don’t want the traffic, have thwarted all development and their couldn’t be an uglier, less efficient rout and construction than I-10 through Tucson. It’s one of the worst in the country, 100% because the old farts of Tucson and its surround say No, No, No!

      This isn’t about improving Tucson, it’s about improving interstate commerce in the country. Tucson is just a sh*th**e commune in the way.

      • With all due respect, you sound jaded and incapable of seeing the reality of the situation. Hard data from ADOT’s own summery report from the public comments on this issue demonstrate two important points: 1) the city of Tucson is officially in favor of the I-10/I-19 improvement option (meaning the Mayor et al.), and 2) the overwhelming majority of citizens are opposed to Avra Valley routes and are willing to consider the I-10/I-19 improvement option. That’s where the process is at, people weighing in on where they stand. If you choose to believe in a reality where the world’s faults lie strictly with either democrats or simply anyone that disagrees with you from any political party, and as a result you resort to whining about false narratives within online forums instead of doing anything proactive, one can only wish you luck for the remainder of such a sad existence. Otherwise, I hope you realize it’s possible to get out from behind your computer and not sulk with blind anger, and instead get out, get involved, research the issue, and actively support the things you believe in (where were you at the meeting?). If you support the I-10/I-19 improvement option, then do something about it (do you? I actually can’t tell, you’re only complaining). Come on, neighbor, join the issue, wherever you may stand.

        • Do you have nothing but personal insults? You would also be against the railroads built to the west.

          Who cares about the 100 or so all old white people fighting progress of the entire Western United States. Soon you will die and the interstate will provide opportunity and prosperity to millions of Americans.

        • You’re right, and I apologize for crossing that line. That was unnecessary, just as it was unnecessary for you to start that trend (see your comments above to Luke). Aside from my poor judgement to feed off of such energy, the facts I mention stand and it is honestly unclear what you actually support (improvement of I-10/I-19 corridor?). So far, you have only stated one fact: I indeed will die someday. However, how soon and whether or not a highway will be in the Avra Valley when that happens is anyone’s guess. Otherwise, you have only complained about what you don’t like and have digressed about your love of liberals. It is your choice if you decide to break away from that stagnation.

  3. Always wise to oppose whatever Huckelberry wants. That idea of extending I-8 sounds good to me.

  4. Just say No to All New Development. Just say No to Growth. Just say No to Interstate Commerce. Just say No to Improving America’s Infrastructure. Just say No to Economic Opportunities for the Next Generation – they don’t need no stinkin’ jobs.

    5th poorest in the country and DAMN proud of it! Resist! Resist! You Can Stop Progress! Just look what 100 old farts instigated by a commie court jester can do!

    • The “No” is to the “new development” called I-11 but development to improve I-10 to serve the same purpose is just fine. If anyone should be “proud” of being the 5th poorest in the country, it is the Huckleberry Highway crowd, particularly the three Democrat Supervisors, Bronson, Elias and Valadez who follow Huckleberry`s lead and are responsible for the economic stagnation of Pima County.

      • Just fine for whom? Retired old folks who don’t work and have nothing better to do than ‘RESIST’ and yell GET OFF MY GRAVEL! YOU and your likes are the reason we’re the 5th poorest in the country, and it’s just “FINE” with you and long as those guvm’t checks keep coming.

  5. There are massive amounts of Taxpayer money that MUST be transferred to well connected cronies.
    These meetings are all just formality at this point. Just so a bunch of bureaucrats can say they followed the process.

  6. The “Huckelberry Highway” is a total scam to steal money. Notice the same names, like Diamond Ventures and Chuck Huckelberry, are always included when money is involved? The bypass solution is simple: extend I-8 from Casa Grande to Lordsburg, NM, and completely skip Pima County. That would be an excellent and inexpensive way to avoid everything Pima and Tucson.

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