By Terri Jo Neff |
Some business leaders have dreamt for years of an interstate that would traverse Arizona, providing a better connection for international trade through Nogales to Phoenix and Las Vegas, and in the process providing a north-south route between Canada and Mexico.
Las Vegas and Phoenix are the only two cities with population of more than 1 million residents which are not linked by a direct interstate route. That dream of new opportunities for trade, commerce, job growth, and economic competitiveness took a leap forward Tuesday when the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) announced its preferred route for the state’s portion of Interstate 11 as it would be known.
Officially called the “Record of Decision and Final Preliminary Section 4(f) Evaluation,” the report released Nov. 16 was prepared by ADOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. It represents the final step in the Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement process, culminating five years of study, technical analysis, and stakeholder input.
The Record of Decision also includes proposed corridor, or route, for the 280 miles of I-11 that would run between Nogales and Wickenburg utilizing new and existing roadways. Another 200 miles of what is currently U.S. Highway 93 from Wickenburg to the Arizona / Nevada state line where 23 miles of I-11 begin its run in Nevada would also become part of I-11 after a series of upgrades. That section is not part of the Record of Decision.
The idea of a Canada to Mexico transportation route which would connect the two largest cities in Arizona and Nevada dates back 25 years. However, it was not until 2015 that Congress formally designated I-11 as an interstate highway in Arizona, although the designation came with no funding for design or construction.
Deciding where the new interstate would be located has presented a years-long challenge for ADOT and FHWA. While the route between Phoenix to Wickenburg was delineated early, there have been two potential routes considered for the Phoenix to Nogales segment. That was further narrowed down to utilizing I-10 from Phoenix for several miles until just north of Marana.
The Tier 1 environmental impact review then looked at two alternatives for reaching Nogales. One of those options took an easterly route by utilizing existing roadways of I-10 to I-19 to State Route 189.
A westerly option, which is the one recommended by ADOT and approved this week by FHWA, would require construction of a new roadway through Avra Valley and then down near Three Points before merging into I-19 in Sahuarita. More than 60 percent of the land near that route is currently vacant.
Previous concerns voiced by stakeholders in the Sahuarita area led to an adjustment of the westerly route before it was recommended this week. The town of Sahuarita has even designated more than 90 acres of vacant land that could be utilized for the merging of I-11 with I-19.
But the I-11 project in Arizona is a long way from ever breaking ground, if it even gets that far. The Tier 1 report released this week with its westerly option recommendation is only the beginning. Additional studies would be necessary, including a Tier 2 environmental review.
“It is during the Tier 2 process that the Selected Corridor Alternative would be narrowed to a maximum 400-foot-wide highway alignment, or route,” according to ADOT. “Based on need and purpose, these segments would focus on smaller and shorter sections of I-11 and not the entire 280-mile corridor.”
And as with the recent announcement of a preferred alternative route for theSonoran Corridor connecting Interstate 10 to Interstate 19, the I-11 project is unfunded.
“Currently there are no plans or funding available to initiate these Tier 2 studies,” ADOT confirmed.
Less than 23 miles of I-11 have been competed in Nevada, running from the Hoover Dam Bypass at the Arizona state line to Henderson, Nevada. The CEO of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce has called completion of I-11 one of the most critical projects for the Intermountain Western states.
For more information about I-11 and the Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement, visit i11study.com/Arizona.