Halfway through a Tier 1 Environmental Impact Study the Arizona Dept. of Transportation (ADOT) and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) are ready to unveil their “reasonable range of alternatives” for a new highway linking Interstate 19 and Interstate 10 east of I-19. The “alternatives” will be presented at a public meeting on Wednesday, September 26, at 5:30 p.m. at the Desert Diamond Casino, 7350 S. Old Nogales Highway. Public comment will follow.
Critics are wondering how things have gotten this far since the Sonoran Corridor was rejected by voters in the 2015 Pima County bond election. $30 million to begin the process was included in the road repair proposition turned down in the election. That appears not to have slowed down the planners one bit.
While the ADOT/FHWA map does not show their “alternatives,” Pima County Administrator Charles H. Huckelberry’s preferred route (see map at https://arizonadailyindependent.com/2018/09/18/building-a-new-i-11-avra-valley-coalition-offers-pros-and-cons/) is the only one that’s really been on the table. Huckelberry initially made his proposal as part of an Avra Valley route for Interstate 11. When a movement against an Avra Valley I-11 grew he renamed it the “Sonoran Corridor.”
Board of Supervisors’ Resolution 2007-343 opposes “the construction of any new highways in or around the County that have the stated purpose of bypassing the existing Interstate 10 as it is believed that the environmental, historic, archaeological and urban form impacts could not be adequately mitigated.” To get around that the proposed road, originally termed a “bypass,” is now called an “auxiliary interstate.”
The “auxiliary interstate” is touted as being necessary for Raytheon, Tucson International Airport, and the University of Arizona Tech Park. Those are all important to Pima County and Tucson’s economic health. But an issue not being discussed is whether many millions of taxpayer dollars should be spent to bolster already- profitable operations? Raytheon posts billion-dollar quarterly profits, the UA Tech Park takes in over $12 million yearly from its tenants, a number of whom are Fortune 500 corporations, and the airport, a non-profit, lists over $3 million in cash assets. Some believe that giving these businesses a free highway could violate the state’s Gift Clause.
Another possible Gift Clause violation is the Huckelberry route. A straight east-west connection might make economic sense, but the Pima County Administrator’s plan drops south to provide a free access highway to a planned 3,000-acre Diamond Ventures upscale development called Swan Southlands. The road then resumes west to connect with I-19 and link with his I-11 route through the Avra Valley.
Developer Don Diamond has sold lots of land to Pima County over the years, and his political persuasion seems to be Money. Diamond, along with Diamond Ventures President Eliot Goldstein, served on Wil Cardon’s campaign committee when he ran for Secretary of State in the Republican primary in 2013. Cardon lost, and last year committed suicide, but his family’s companies own some 1500 acres along the Avra Valley I-11 route.
In 2016 Diamond raised tens of thousands of dollars to save Democrat Supervisor Sharon Bronson from an election defeat. Perhaps Huckelberry’s Sonoran Corridor route is Diamond’s payback. And a back-door way to legitimize his I-11 route through the Avra Valley.
In Pima County, and with ADOT, things are never quite what they seem. While the mainstream media touts itself as the “Fourth Estate,” little research and questioning of the official line actually goes on. And so a self-serving ADOT or Pima County press release gets run as is with a reporter’s byline to give it the appearance of legitimacy.
A case in point is the Tucson Weakly’s rousing endorsement of Proposition 463, road repair bonds, totally ignoring the facts – if you read the proposition and do the math – that a second bond election has to be held in five years, that property taxes will, in fact, rise as projected valuations go up, and that an additional $1.5 million will be needed for maintenance. The Arizona Daily Independent is, of course, hated by the Weakly because it asks the hard questions, does the research, and knows how to use a calculator. If you are not an ADI subscriber, now’s the time to support a truly free press.