Arizona corridor approved; hunt is on for next stage funding

It’s official.

Transportation officials have picked a corridor through Arizona for America’s newest interstate, which will take travelers and freight from the Mexican border to Las Vegas.

But don’t pack up the car quite yet for a road trip. There are still many hurdles to clear before Interstate 11 through Arizona becomes a reality. And the biggest bar is money.

This week the Arizona Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration signed a Record of Decision which approved the I-11 corridor from Nogales to Wickenburg. The approved 2,000-foot-wide route still is not finalized through Tucson as two alternates remain for further study.

The corridor – which was the “preferred alternative” as identified in the Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement – joins I-19 from Nogales north. Just south of Tucson, one alternative splits and runs through the Avra Valley while the other alternative follows I-10 through Tucson. Those paths merge near Marana where the approved I-11 corridor parallels I-10 until it reaches I-8. The new corridor follows I-8 west for several miles until it veers north and west past the Estrella Mountains and into Buckeye, finally rejoining the I-10 there. The I-11 corridor then heads north past the White Tank Mountains and links up with the existing US 93 just north of Wickenburg.

The route from Wickenburg to Nevada is already established. It will use the US 93 corridor and does not require further study.

The next step is a Tier 2 EIS. During this process, the exact 400-foot-wide alignment through that wider corridor will be established. Specific environmental analysis and mitigation measures will be established, interchanges will be designated and the preliminary design of the highway will be created.

The Tier 2 EIS can be done is stages which reduces the initial funding necessary and could expedite some legs of the new highway. Some believe ADOT, which will be the lead agency in the study, may start with the Wickenburg-to-Buckeye leg. It would provide a direct link to the existing Las Vegas highway along US 93 and to Interstate 10. It also would provide a new transportation corridor for anticipated massive development in the Buckeye area.

In the past, funding for continuing study and planning for these projects had to be generated from state, regional, county and local funds. Local supporters, including the private I-11 Coalition, are meeting with state and local representatives to look at possible sources of funds. However, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Acts, which was signed into law in mid-November by President Biden, does create a new source of grant funding which supporters believe could be tapped for I-11.

Distribution of those grant moneys falls to the Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg.

The U.S. senators from Arizona and Nevada have already begun intense lobbying of Buttigieg to fund I-11, according to those aware of their actions. The secretary was in Phoenix last week to tout other aspects of the infrastructure bill that will impact Arizona.

Categories: Arizona

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