The Arizona Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration announced last week their “recommended alternative” route for Interstate 11 in Southern Arizona. Despite wide-spread opposition, the agencies chose a route passing though Avra Valley.
The choice was between expanding and improving I-10 or constructing a new highway through the Avra Valley west of Tucson.
The I-10 alternative, the least expensive and intrusive option, was estimated to save some $2 billion by ADOT’s estimate. The I-10 alternative would have also spared southern Arizona communities a severe economic hit.
That economic hit was part of the reasoning for the Pima County Board of Supervisors to pass a resolution in opposition to the Avra Valley route in 2007.
The draft Tier 1 Environmental Impact Study in progress, initiated when Supervisor Steve Christy chaired the State Transportation Board at a cost of $15 million, raises many questions for groups Citizens for Picture Rocks, a rural Pima County community group, and the Avra Valley Coalition.
Those groups had asked the Pima County Board of Supervisors to recertify the eleven-year-old resolution in opposition. District 3 Supervisor Sharon Bronson advised the organizers she might have problems getting that done and offered a letter from herself and Board chair Richard Elias.
Residents have questions and doubts
In the 2017 public comment period there were over 3000 responses from the public. Of those, 89 percent were in opposition to any Avra Valley route, while only one-half of 1 percent favored it. As a former ADOT employee commented, ADOT is obligated to solicit public comment, but they are not obligated to pay any attention to it. So why bother?
Still, with the stiff opposition and the fact that without a new multi-billion-dollar I-11 highway, “by the year 2040 travel time between Tucson and Nogales may increase as much as two (2) minutes.” (Source: ADOT/FHWA I-11 Study Manager Jay Van Echo at Citizens for Picture Rocks meeting August 2018). Is this community crushing project worth it?
National policy is to bring American jobs back from overseas. Building I-11 (“nearshoring”) will attract American companies from China to Mexico where wages are now lower than in China. (Source: ADOT/FHWA Purpose and Need Memorandum, 2/28/17). How do low-wage jobs in Mexico advance U.S. policy?
A new highway through the Avra Valley would result in vehicle emissions settling in Tucson Water’s Avra Valley CAP settling ponds, potentially threatening the aquifer. Tucson would also lose jobs, businesses and tax revenue from the I-10 corridor. (Source: City of Tucson comments in ADOT/FHWA Scoping Summary Report, Appendix D, 1/25/17.). How is threatening the water supply a good thing?
I-11 will facilitate the shift of shipping and jobs from U.S. West Coast ports to the Mexican Port of Guaymas. (Source: ADOT/FHWA Purpose and Need Memorandum, 2/28/17*.) How is taking existing jobs from American workers a good thing?
Why are they lying?
From the draft EIS: “Option D (the Avra Valley route) would avoid impacts in downtown Tucson, but would impact the rural communities of Avra Valley and Picture Rocks. Downtown Tucson is an urban area with a high concentration of low-income and minority individuals, and the Orange Alternative would impact these communities. The adverse effects on the low-income and minority populations in Tucson have the potential to exceed those borne by non-environmental justice populations. By contrast, demographic data indicate that Avra Valley and Picture Rocks communities do not contain low-income or minority populations.”
Picture Rocks and Avra Valley are US Dept. of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) designated colonias. There are 15 USDA designated Colonias in Pima County. Colonias, typically similar in makeup to Target Areas, include communities located within 150 miles of the US-Mexico border that meet the federal definition of lacking sewer, wastewater removal, decent housing, or other basic services.”
Picture Rocks and Avra Valley are also county “target areas. There are 19 Pima County Community Development Target Areas:
- 59,081 people (or 7% of Pima County’s total population) reside in these target areas.
- 39% of the people are Hispanic or Latino
- 61% of households are low- or moderate-income.”
A new highway through the Avra Valley would bring air, noise and light pollution to tens of thousands of people. One-eighth of Avra Valley residents are retirees, slightly less than one-eighth are military veterans, and one-quarter are under the age of 18. Four-fifths of the housing is owner-occupied. Dozens of families would be evicted.
Concern for the poor is a primary driver for the Avra Valley route, yet I-11 will provide a taxpayer-funded free access highway to a planned private development: What is now called the “Sonoran Corridor” (rejected in the 2015 Pima County bond election) was originally shown on maps prepared by Pima County as part of I-11 to link I-19 and I-10, and the new draft notes that. Instead of a straight east-west route, however, it drops south to provide a free access highway for Diamond Ventures planned Swan Southlands/Verano development. (Source: I-11 map proposed by the Pima County Administrator).
Some lies are by omission: In the “report” on the handpicked “Stakeholders’ Meetings” it is never mentioned that the final product of those meetings was a united demand that I-10 be improved rather than build a new Avra Valley highway.
Unmentioned in the Draft is that ADOT and FHWA have prepared a Memorandum of Understanding (“NEPA Assignment”) that will give all environmental monitoring power to ADOT itself for the Tier 2 EIS study, which will be up in a year or two. Tier 2 is where the final alignments are drawn, along with interchanges, entrance and exits. Why are we letting the fox guard the chicken coop, with no federal oversight?
Construction may be years away, but decisions made in the present will bind our children and grandchildren forever.
Public meetings have been scheduled: The Tucson meeting is May 8, 3 – 8 p.m. at the Tucson Convention Center. A Marana High School meeting is scheduled for Saturday, May 11, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Note that while Project Manager Jay Van Echo promised a standing-room-only Citizens for Picture Rocks meeting last August that the meeting would have open discussion and questions – not their usual tightly controlled format – they are now limiting speakers to the first 70 people who sign up in advance, with speakers/questioners limited to three minutes. So less than half the meeting time will be allotted for questions or discussion. Not quite what was promised.
You can access the draft EIS at http://origin.i11study.com/Arizona/Documents.asp.