The Interstate 11 Planning Team working on a Tier 1 Environmental Impact Study was to announce its “preferred alternative:” an Avra Valley route, the existing I-10 corridor, or the rarely-mentioned No Build option, by the end of 2018. The $15 million Arizona Dept. of Transportation study, in partnership with the Federal Highway Administration, was begun in 2016 and is expected to be concluded in 2020.
The chosen route announcement was put off until January 11, 2019, but is delayed because of the federal shutdown. The draft EIS has to be published in the Federal Register, according to ADOT Communications Project Manager Laura Douglas. Douglas was responding to community queries after a KGUN-TV report that dates had been set for mid-February. Douglas emailed:
“The preliminary schedule for the public hearings was released before the details were final….ADOT and FHWA are working on a number of methods to ensure that all community members along the proposed I-11 Corridor are well aware of the comment period and public hearings well in advance of when they are scheduled to occur. We will provide lots of notice through several communication methods to ensure all interested parties can provide comments and attend a public hearing. Again, our schedule for the Draft EIS, comment period and hearings now depends on the re-opening of the federal government.”
Opponents of I-11 in the Avra Valley, which would displace families and wildlife and threaten local water supplies, have been waiting for the other shoe to fall, with all indications that it will be an Avra Valley route. That choice, they argue, will also hurt tourism and destroy existing jobs along I-10. Saguaro National Park, Ironwood Forest National Monument and the Desert Museum all oppose an Avra Valley route, along with the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, Citizens for Picture Rocks, the Avra Valley Coalition, and a growing list of supporters, including elected officials from both parties.
On Saturday, January 19, in the late afternoon, updated on January 20, KGUN-TV’s Natalie Tarangioli posted a brief story online about ADOT’s schedule for the legally-required public meetings. She noted that the schedule was “tentative” due to the federal government shutdown. Her story is at https://www.kgun9.com/news/local-news/adot-holding-public-meetings-in-february-for-interstate-11.
Since the public meetings, and a 45-day public comment period, are required by law following announcement of their choice, it seems clear that the I-11 planners have selected their “preferred alternative,” although Tarangioli reported that ADOT told her “they’re still more than a year away from identifying the corridor.” ADOT’s Douglas, however, indicated otherwise: “The federal government shutdown has affected the schedule for finishing and uploading the Draft Environmental Impact Statement to the Federal Register.”
In looking at the “tentative” schedule in the KGUN story, the five-hour blocks of time allotted for Tucson and Marana public meetings indicate that ADOT plans to use the meeting format they’ve always used, breaking a promise to – for the first time – allow public discussion and questions from the floor. At a Citizens for Picture Rocks meeting on August 21, 2018, ADOT’s Jay Van Echo, who heads the I-11 planning team, told a standing-room-only crowd that he would agree to allow questions and comments at the next round of public meetings. Laura Douglas was present and also agreed.
The usual ADOT format is for the planners to make their presentation, with no questions or comments from the floor, and then let people write their comments out or talk one-on-one with “staff” who have been brought in for the occasion. Experience has shown that those “staff” generally know little or nothing beyond a few ADOT talking points.
When an Avra Valley Coalition activist attempted to respectfully ask a question at the mid-2017 public meeting in Marana, an enforcer from ADOT’s public relations arm, The Gordley Group, tried to intimidate him into silence. The firm’s boss, Alice Gordley, has a habit of picking up and discarding any opposition information sheets she can find. Van Echo was publically furious and refused to answer the question.
Van Echo and Company seem to have a short fuse. The ADOT planner also angrily refused to answer a question at a public meeting last year on the Sonoran Corridor despite clamor from the audience for an answer. That question asked how that project was proceeding despite the stated opposition of the Pima County Board of Supervisors and rejection of the Sonoran Corridor by voters in the 2015 bond election? The Sonoran Corridor was originally designated I-11 as an extension of Pima County Administrator Charles Huckelberry’s proposed Avra Valley I-11 route.
To see the interactive map showing ADOT’s Avra Valley routes, obtained with a Freedom of Information Act demand from the Avra Valley Coalition, go to: https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1QWsZCzGBFqeXXdGeXSuv_rfdJSz4sFfv&ll=32.476248578826464%2C-111.33605643538931&z=17
Will there be a “preferred alternative” announcement? Will ADOT keep the promise it made for democratic discussion? Will the opposition of the people prevail over the greed of those who want a highway to facilitate low-wage, high-profit jobs in Mexico? Will pigs fly? Stay tuned!