The proposed Interstate 11 would run from Nogales to the Nevada border, where it would connect with the existing I-11. Ultimately, it would be part of a long-discussed trade route connecting Mexico to Canada.
Work on the project will not happen for years, if at all, but residents in Sahuarita have sounded the alarm because the proposed route could cut through a neighborhood as it connects to I-19 near El Toro Road.
Why are we talking about this now?
The 454-page Final Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was released in July for a 30-day public review and comment period, which closes Aug. 16. The study looks at alternatives for the 280-mile section from Nogales to Wickenburg and makes a recommendation,. (The roughly 200-mile stretch of US 93 from Wickenburg to the Nevada state line will be upgraded and eventually called I-11 and is not part of the EIS study.)
Where exactly is it?
That hasn’t been decided, but there is a recommended route. Under the plan, Interstate 11 would break off from I-10 in the west Phoenix area and roughly parallel it until rejoining I-10 north of Marana. At that point, there is an east option and a west option. The east option would co-locate I-11 with I-10, I-19 and State Route 189 into Nogales — it uses existing roads.
It’s the west option that concerns Sahuarita and others. It would cut west of I-10 and come through Avra Valley, pass close to Saguaro National Park, go west of the Tohono O’Odham San Xavier District north of Sahuarita, near Three Points and then connect to I-19 near El Toro Road in Sahuarita.
The study recommends the west option.
Why does it support the west option through Sahuarita?
The study says that 64 percent of the land between Sahuarita and Wickenburg is vacant, “with no direct impacts to residential or community facility lands.” It also says the Ryan Airfield area, which is close to the west option path, is an emerging employment center and I-11 would provide access to it.
However, the study also points out that the west option “would not provide access to existing employment clusters of Port of Tucson, Sonoran Corridor, downtown Tucson, and the Tangerine Road Commercial Corridor in Marana.”
Why do we even need I-11?
Creating a trade route between Canada and Mexico has been a topic of discussion since the early 1990s. Interstate 11 is intended to support improved mobility of people, goods and services as well as enhance “economic vitality.” In short, faster, more efficient and an opportunity to deliver an economic shot in the arm.
According to the Environmental Impact Statement, population growth, congestion in travel time, system linkages, access to economic activity and access for homeland security and national defense are all needs I-11 could fill.
What does Sahuarita think?
In 2016, the Town of Sahuarita was on board, seeing I-11 as a way to meet the town’s future needs as it grows. In June 2019, residents got wind of just where the new I-11 could be placed and showed up in force at a council meeting to voice their opposition. That changed things.
On July 3, 2019, a week after the council meeting, the town manager sent a letter asking ADOT to consider another route.
Murphy said he will be calling for a special meeting ahead of the end of the public comment period next month so the council can weigh in on I-11 again. He said the project is far away and residents don’t need to fear disruption in their neighborhoods anytime soon.
“It’s important for the community to know that,” he said. “If they are in the wide swath study area it does not mean bulldozers are coming tomorrow. The second EIS is when lines are going to be drawn to show where it would possibly be.”
Murphy said he believes ADOT heard their previous feedback.
“They are moving it north a little bit so it’s going to have potentially very little impact,” he said. “We (the town) picked up 93 acres off El Toro Road and I want that to be considered as a potential real space to go through. It gives the town some ability to negate some of or all of the residential impact.”
Murphy said they would be advocating for zero impact to residential areas.
How much does it cost and when will it happen?
There are too many unknowns to address cost.
The project is nearly 30 years in the making and it will likely be decades before it happens. It is still possible that the project will not move forward — there is a No Build Option in the report.
The Tier 1 environmental study is expected to be completed at the end of this year. After that there will be Tier 2 environmental studies needed and none of those are currently scheduled. There is no funding allocated for those studies, nor is there a timeline or funding allocated for the construction of the I-11 should it move forward.
How can I be heard?
The Final Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement is available for at i11study.com/Arizona. You can also view it at the Town of Sahuarita or at the Joyner-Green Valley Library through Aug. 16.
Once the 30-day period is over, the Arizona Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration will move into their next phase, creating a Record of Decision to identify a Selected Corridor Alternative or the No-Build Option.