Interstate 11

I-11: A Disaster for the Sonoran Desert?

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Interstate 11 was released on April 5, 2019 and the deadline for public comments was July 8, 2019. As expected, the Recommended Alternative route in the DEIS is in Avra Valley at the doorstep of Saguaro National Park, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and Ironwood Forest National Monument. THANK YOU for all your comments opposing this proposal, including your attendance at public meetings, Letters to the Editor, outreach to your friends and family, and financial support. Now that the Tier 1 DEIS comment period has ended, please head below to learn more about what you can continue to do today to oppose this destructive proposal. 

RESOURCES

1. I-11 Recommended Alternative route and land ownership map

View a map of the I-11 Recommended Alternative route and land ownership along the route. A .pdf of the map can be found HERE. A .jpg of the map can be found HERE. Please note that this map only shows private property that touches the route and is not a comprehensive map of all the private property that would be impacted by a new interstate. We strongly believe that the impacts of a new interstate would be felt by a wide cross-section of property owners in the area; however, for the purposes of this map, we chose to only show, in red, private properties that directly intersect with the route (along with other forms of land ownership that are not private, as identified in the map legend). 

2. I-11 Recommended Alternative route interactive map

View an interactive map of the Recommended Alternative Route for Interstate 11 to gain a deeper understanding of all the public lands this proposed interstate would destroy forever. The interactive map can be found HERE

3. Comments submitted by local organizations and local governments on the Tier 1 I-11 DEIS 

Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection comments 

Pima County comments

City of Tucson comments

National Parks Conservation Association comments

Tucson Herpetological Society comments and a list of herpetofauna found in Avra Valley 

Sierra Club-Grand Canyon Chapter comments

Tucson Mountains Association comments

Safford Peak Watershed Education Team comments

Town of Sahuarita comments

BACKGROUND AND HISTORY

For many years, local community organizations and government agencies in Pima County, AZ have been aware of plans and ideas surrounding the issue of how to accommodate increased traffic flow on Interstate 10, which currently runs directly through downtown Tucson. One idea that has been floated in various forms is to build a brand new freeway west of the Tucson Mountains to “bypass” Interstate 10.

This proposed freeway, now called Interstate 11, is abhorrent on many levels, the most significant being that a freeway west of the Tucson Mountains would have to be built directly adjacent to Saguaro National Park and Ironwood Forest National Monument.

In addition to these iconic federal parks, there are other protected open spaces that would be negatively impacted such as Pima County-owned Tucson Mountain Park, the Tucson Mitigation Corridor owned by the Bureau of Reclamation and managed by Pima County, open space properties purchased and protected under the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, and tribal lands owned by the Pascua-Yaqui Nation and the Tohono O’odham Nation. To put it simply, Interstate 11 would be a disaster for the Sonoran Desert. 

2007-2017: Past planning processes for Interstate 11

Planning for this project has been underway for quite some time. The process can be traced back decades but includes the following milestones:

2007 –  Both the Arizona Game and Fish Commission and Pima County made formal statements opposing any new freeway that “bypasses” Interstate 10.

2011 –  The Maricopa Association of Governments made a presentation to the Pima Association of Governments Management Committee about a potential “Interstate 11 Corridor.”

July 2013 –  We submitted comments on the I-11 and Intermountain West Corridor Study – Corridor Justification Report (completed by the Arizona and Nevada Departments of Transportation) opposing any corridors in Avra Valley.

January 2014 – The Friends of Saguaro National Park passed a formal resolution opposing the proposed Interstate 11 in Avra Valley and called on the Arizona Department of Transportation to drop any further consideration of the proposal. 

July 2016 – We submitted comments, along with other community groups, during the “scoping period” for the Tier 1 DEIS on Interstate 11, questioning the purpose and need for the project and opposing any alternatives located in Avra Valley. 

June 2017 – We submitted comments, along with other community groups, on the “I-11 Corridor Alternatives Selections Report” opposing any routes located in Avra Valley and supporting co-location with Interstates 19 and 10. 

2018: I-11 Joint Stakeholder Community Planning Group

In 2018, the Arizona Department of Transportation and the Federal Highways Administration convened a diverse coalition of community groups to offer input on two proposed routes for Interstate 11: 1) west of the Tucson Mountains, as described above, or 2) co-located with the existing Interstate 10. At the end of this advisory process, many of the involved groups formed the I-11 Joint Stakeholder Community Planning Group. In August 2018, the I-11 Joint Stakeholder Community Planning Group released the following press release (a more lengthy position statement written by the group, along with a list of the groups involved, can be found HERE):

Citizens Convened by Federal and State Highway Departments Strongly Oppose Highway in Avra Valley

Stakeholders find Common Ground in Downtown Route to Create a Sustainable City

Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHwA) recently convened representatives of several stakeholder organizations in a process to explore two alternative routes for the proposed Interstate 11 through Pima County. Stakeholders have developed a consensus position that re-designing I-10 and I-19 to accommodate co-location with I-11 could have a positive effect on downtown revitalization while stating strong opposition to an “I-10 bypass” in Avra Valley.

“A freeway that borders Tucson Mountain Park, Tohono O’odham tribal lands, Saguaro National Park, and Ironwood Forest National Monument makes absolutely zero sense,” stated Carolyn Campbell, Executive Director of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection. “The direct and cumulative effects of a freeway to these natural and cultural iconic places of the Sonoran Desert simply cannot be mitigated. This route should not be under consideration.”

Stakeholders believe that there are shortcomings associated with the federal review process that focuses on new highway construction.  However, “we believe that there could be a significant opportunity to address some of the historic negative consequences that resulted from the construction of I-10,” said Gene Einfrank, Menlo Park Neighborhood Association President. “The building of I-10 physically divided our community and diminished the quality of life of our downtown and other neighborhoods along the highway. Instead of simply adding new lanes to our existing highway, we should consider redesigning portions of it—either going underground or suspended—so that we can reconnect our city.” 

Moreover, stakeholders encourage a broader look at future transportation options, focusing on changes to the management of the existing highway to reduce congestion, including pricing, scheduling, and other programs; technologies that improve traffic flows; and enhancements to the rail system, including light rail and intermodal transportation.

The group recommends ADOT and FHwA refer to the I-11 Super Corridor study final document, which was submitted to ADOT in 2016, to draw inspiration on a comprehensive design. The Sustainable Cities Lab, hosted at the UA College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, completed this transdisciplinary study on the I-11 corridor along with Arizona State University and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. UA’s study area focused on opportunities from Marana to the south of downtown Tucson. Their outcomes incorporate the addition of light and heavy rail, walking, cycling, new technology for controlling traffic as well as incorporating alternative forms of energy production and transportation.

2018-2019: Tier 1 Draft Environmental Impact Statement

Throughout the fall of 2018, community partners knew that federal agencies were working on a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the “Tier 1” level of review of Interstate 11. Maps of various route alternatives had been circulated in prior years, with the two possible routes described above – west of the Tucson Mountains or co-located with Interstate 10 – being the final two in the running.

The Tier 1 DEIS was finally released on April 5, 2019 and the Recommended Alternative was as we suspected, at the doorstep of some of our most treasured and valuable public lands in southern Arizona.   In preparation for this, the Coalition expanded our Wildlife Camera Monitoring Program in 2018 to include new wildlife cameras in Avra Valley along the proposed I-11 route to document the diversity of wildlife that lives in this area and would be harmed by a new freeway. Our monitoring of this area has resulted in beautiful photos of wildlife, along with scat evidence of mountain lions in late 2018!

Throughout April, May, June, and early July 2019, we worked with our member groups, partners on the I-11 Joint Stakeholder Community Planning Group, and concerned community members to execute a coordinated, community-based response to this DEIS. Two public meetings were held in the Tucson region to gather public comments on the DEIS. Over 200 people attended the May 8 public meeting at the Tucson Convention Center, with 85 giving verbal comments. And over 350 people attended the May 11 public meeting in Marana, with over 100 people giving verbal comments. We held multiple comment-writing workshops, in mid-town Tucson, downtown Tucson, and Picture Rocks. And in early June, we sent out over 13,000 postcards to property owners along the proposed route to inform them on the proposal and their opportunity to comment on it. On July 4, 2019, we submitted our official comments on the Tier 1 DEIS, representing our 30 members and including 27 signatories from our member groups and partner organizations. Sixteen Letters to the Editor were published in the AZ Daily Star opposing the I-11 route and we know of many more that were submitted and not published (see below for links to all the published letters). 22 news stories were published both in print, on-line, and on TV about the public comment period and the widespread community opposition to this proposal (see below for links to all the news stories). 

NEXT STEPS

Now that the Tier 1 DEIS commenting period concluded on July 8, 2019, the Arizona Department of Transportation and Federal Highways Administration will be reviewing and analyzing all the public comments they received. According to the timelines on the official I-11 website, a Final Tier EIS will be released sometime in 2020. How can you stay involved and continuing voicing your opposition to the proposed I-11 route? Here are some concrete actions you can take:

1. Write a Letter to the Editor. There has been a steady drumbeat of opposition to the proposed I-11 route in the Opinion section of the AZ Daily Star and we want that to continue! Even after the comment deadline on July 8, 2019, letters are still being regularly printed. Please submit a letter today! The AZ Daily Star will publish letters from individuals after a minimum of 30 days has passed since their last letter was printed so feel free to submit multiple letters over the next few months. Or, if you submitted one in the past and it didn’t get published, you can definitely submit again. All Letters to the Editor published to date are listed at the bottom of this webpage. 

The on-line submission form to the AZ Daily Star can be found HERE.

Other regional newspapers also have a Letters to the Editor section. This includes:

Explorer/Marana Newsonline submission form

Green Valley Newsonline submission form 

Inside Tucson Businessonline submission form

Arizona Republiconline submission form

2. Write to U.S. Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally, your U.S. representative, your state senator and representatives, and Governor Ducey to express your opposition to the proposed I-11 route. Contact information for all of these elected officials is outlined below. 

Senator Kyrsten Sinemaonline form, mail addresses, and phone numbers

Senator Martha McSallyonline form + mail addresses and phone numbers

U.S. Representatives – enter your zip code and find contact info HERE

AZ State Senators and Representatives – enter your address and zip code and find contact info HERE

Governor Doug Duceyonline form

Thank you for continuing to use your voice and all the available avenues to pressure ADOT and FHWA to make the right choice and abandon the Recommended Alternative route in Avra Valley. 

Thank you for joining us in this important fight on behalf of the people and wildlife of the Sonoran Desert!

Photo gallery of lands that would be impacted by the proposed I-11 route. Photos by Frank Staub can be purchased at www.frankstaub.com. Please do not publish or reproduce photos without the photographer’s permission. 

This saguaro cactus stands tall and greets the sun in Saguaro National Park-Tucson Mountain District. Photo courtesy Saguaro National Park/NPS.

Picture 2 of 20

Photo gallery of wildlife that would be impacted by the proposed I-11 route. Please do not publish or reproduce photos without the photographer’s permission. 

This Nelson’s Bighorn Sheep ram (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) was photographed in the northern end of the Tucson Mountains in 2016 after likely migrating from Ironwood Forest National Monument to the west (and directly through the area proposed for an I-11 route). This ram was one of two desert bighorn sheep spotted throughout the Tucson Mountains until they finally traveled further afield. Photo by Brian Jones.

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR PUBLISHED TO DATE OPPOSING THE PROPOSED I-11 ROUTE

Interstate 11” – Ellie Kurtz (July 31, 2019)

Wildlife and humans will suffer if I-11 is built” – Jacob Richards (July 15, 2019)

Interstate 11 Alternative Route” – Karina Marcano (July 14, 2019)

Interstate 11: Homeowner near Sandario Rd. and Ajo Way” – Emily Burke (July 10, 2019)

Don’t lose Avra Valley’s desert beauty” – Anna Eccles (July 7, 2019)

No I-11 in Avra Valley for all our sakes” – Jenna Bell (July 7, 2019)

Interstate 11 destroys” – Pat Barey (July 6, 2019)

I-11 Tier 1 EIS Study” – Jack Strasburg (July 6, 2019)

I-11 in Avra Valley is not the way to go” – Mike Cardwell (July 4, 2019)

I-11 vs. Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan” – Evelyn Wheeler (July 4, 2019)

Say no to Interstate 11 and domination” – Rick Brown, AICP (July 4, 2019)

Where is democracy in I-11 plan?” – Cary Kittrell (June 30, 2019)

Is ADOT Listening?” – Elsa Swyers (June 25, 2019)

Letter: Re: the June 21 article “Political Notebook: Tucson Council opposed to Interstate 11” – Bill Thornton (June 25, 2019)

Don’t ruin Saguaro National Park by building Interstate 11” – Ed Hendel (June 12, 2019)

I-11 Controversy” – Ellen Kurtz (June 9, 2019)

I-11 bad for all in Pima County” – Gene Valdes (May 21, 2019)

Let’s stay united on opposing I-11 Corridor” – Dorian Dodson (May 19, 2019)

New route for I-11” – Jeffrey McConnell (May 18, 2019)

Re: the April 22 article ‘Federal, state, and local voice concerns over environmental impact of proposed I-11 highway” – Christine Felix (May 15, 2019)

Save the people, not just wildlife, from I-11” – Albert Lannon (May 14, 2019)

 

MEDIA ABOUT THE I-11 TIER 1 DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT

Opposition against Interstate 11 in Arizona cite existing roads, environment” – Daily Independent (October 11, 2019)

ADOT widens I-1o, but will it be enough?” – AZ Public Media (October 1, 2019)

For Arizona, Interstate 11 might be a pipe dream” – Nevada Public Radio (September 10, 2019)

I-11 opponents in Hidden Valley find accord with Finchem” – InMaricopa.com (August 27, 2019)

Building Interstate 11 through Arizona is a $7 billion waste” – Kevin DeGood, Op-Ed in AZ Republic (August 26, 2019)

White Elephant Watch: Interstate 11, Arizona” – Center for American Progress Report (August 8, 2019)

I-11: Great things for Tucson or a Phoenix plot to destroy us?” – Tucson Sentinel (July 17, 2019)

Sahuarita no longer supports recommended I-11 corridor” – Green Valley News (July 13, 2019)

Town Council takes a second look at I-11 after crowded meeting” – Green Valley News (June 26, 2019)

Daily Fitz Cartoon: Santa Cruz Reborn” – AZ Daily Star (June 24, 2019)

Political Notebook: Tucson Council opposed to Interstate 11” – AZ Daily Star (June 21, 2019)

Interstate 11: A Road to Nowhere” – Zocalo Magazine (June 19, 2019)

Tucson City Council opposes proposed Interstate 11” – AZ Public Media (June 19, 2019)

Tucson City Council joins I-11 opposition” – KGUN 9 News (June 19, 2019)

Tucson City Council hears from ADOT on I-11 plan” – KGUN9 News (June 18, 2019)

Proposed I-11 west of Tucson a backwards approach for the 21st century” – Op-Ed in the AZ Daily Star by Fred Stula and Kevin Dahl (June 16, 2019)

Residents want more town dialogue on I-11 plan in Sahuarita” – Green Valley News (June 15, 2019)

I-11 Bypass” – Insightful commentary in Tucson Councilperson Steve Kozachick’s June 2019 e-newsletter

Road Runner: Opponent suggests improvements to I-1o could alter plans for proposed I-11” – AZ Daily Star (May 19, 2019)

KXCI-30 Minutes Interview on CSDP and I-11” – Interview with CSDP Executive Director Carolyn Campbell, hosted by Amanda Shauger (May 12, 2019)

Letter from Representative Raul Grijalva opposing the Recommended Alternative route for I-11, read into the record at the May 8 public meeting at the TCC

Time to draw a line for nature, in Avra Valley” – AZ Daily Star (May 12, 2019)

Interstate 11 Public Hearing” – Recap of the May 8 public meeting at the Tucson Convention Center starts at minute 13:52 and an interview with ADOT Project Manager Jay Van Echo at minute 16:48, Channel 6, AZ Public Media, Arizona 360 (May 10, 2019)

Public asked to share input on proposal for Interstate 11” – AZ Public Media (May 10, 2019)

ADOT seeking public comment on proposed route for Interstate 11” – KGUN 9 (May 10, 2019)

Interstate 11 meeting draws few local residents” – Nogales International (May 10, 2019)

ADOT holds public meeting on controversial I-11 corridor” – KOLD 13 (May 8, 2019)

State Seeks Public Comment on New Interstate” – Article and radio interview on Arizona Public Media (May 7, 2019)

Federal, state and local agencies voice concerns over environmental impact of proposed I-11 highway” – AZ Daily Star (April 22, 2019)

William Thornton: Running Interstate 11 through Avra Valley would be a bad idea” – Op-Ed in the AZ Daily Star (April 17, 2019)