Avra Valley decision pushed off to Round 2

Tucson conservationists were stunned when state transportation officials kicked the can down the road on the most controversial section of Interstate 11 in Arizona.

The Final Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement for I-11 from Nogales to Wickenburg designated a preferred 2,000-foot-wide corridor for the entire stretch, except for the nearly 70-mile portion through Tucson.

“Everybody was shocked,” said Carolyn Campbell, executive director of the conservationists’ umbrella organization Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection.

The recommended alignment as proposed in the draft EIS took the new highway through the Avra Valley, skirting Tucson entirely to the west.

The final EIS kept a version of that route, heading west from I-19 at Sahuarito and then dipping north through a pair of Indian reservations, along the western boundary of Saguaro National Park, through the middle of a wildlife mitigation area as well as cutting through residential lots and ending just east of Ironwood Forest National Monument.

In addition, the Arizona Department of Transportation put back into play a second route through the area that would overlay Interstate 10 through Tucson, then hook back west with the I-11 route north of Marana. This proposal would require some sort of expansion of the existing I-10 (widening, double-decking or tunneling are some of the suggestions) but not add a new interstate footprint in the region.

The inclusion of both routes was to allow “ADOT to make a more informed decision after completing detailed environmental and engineering studies” in the second environmental study phase.

Campbell believes that decision was “absolutely a victory for us” and came as a direct result of the loud and large public outcry over the western route through Avra Valley.

Public turnout during the hearings on the route was among the largest Campbell said she has seen in her many years of fighting conservation battles in Pima County. That public voice “cannot be overstated,” Campbell said. And she remembers no one advocating for the western route at any of the hearings – all were opposed to running the interstate through Avra Valley. Opposition to that route also came from various federal agencies that questioned impact of the interstate there, as well as many local governments including Pima County and the City of Tucson.

ADOT is awaiting the Record of Decision from the Federal Highway Administration on its Final Tier 1 EIS, which is expected to come by the end of the year. Once that’s in hand, then they will try to cobble together funds for the Tier 2 EIS, which will define a 400-wide specific route within the identified corridor.

It will also pick which way to go through – or around – Tucson.

And Campbell, along with the 40 non-governmental agencies that her coalition represents, will be ready for the next round in this battle.

Categories: Arizona