The Avra Valley as seen from Saguaro National Park with Ironwood Forest National Monument visible in the distance (mountains).
Are they NUTS? Among the alternatives being considered by the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) for future Interstate 11 (I-11) are two (2) options that would loop it west of Tucson through the stunningly gorgeous Avra Valley.
Who in their right mind would consider bulldozing an expressway through a beautiful and virtually pristine valley corridor bordered by Saguaro National Park (West Unit), Tucson Mountain Park, and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum on the east and the Ironwood Forest National Monument on the west? Apparently land speculators, developers, builders, and some politicians don’t seem to care how beautiful it is as long as they can make money. It is almost like they are saying, “To hell with scenic beauty and the associated tourism dollars it attracts, when we can defile the natural landscape while making a buck.” I cannot think of a more selfish and egotistical way of thinking.
Screenshot map from the ADOT Study shows the alternatives being considered for future I-11 near Tucson. Options C and D would pass through the Avra Valley.
There are a number of alternative routes originally under consideration including piggybacking future I-11 with existing I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson, with a double-deck freeway built in portions of Tucson – at a cost of $2 billion less than going through the Avra Valley, I might add. This option is shown as Alternative B (blue) on the map above.
If future I-11 must extend beyond Phoenix (it was originally only intended to connect Phoenix with Las Vegas) I do not see a better option than co-shielding and aligning future I-11 with existing I-10. This is especially true given the many significant scenic vistas and environmental, historical, and archaeological sites located along and near the route(s) of Alternatives C and D. Both would pass through the Avra Valley and are shown in lime green on the map above.
Arizona is one of the most beautiful states in the nation, but at what point does paving over paradise destroy the beauty that drew folks there in the first place? In my opinion, Phoenix is largely beyond the point of no return. Tucson, however, is an entirely different story. But, throw in another busy highway corridor west of the city and the careful balance that has been achieved between city and nature could be irreversibly harmed.
What strikes me as even more reckless is that Alternatives C and D would pass right over/by several of the City of Tucson’s primary groundwater sources (see CAVSARP and SAVSARP on the map above). Want to guess how much chaos and catastrophe an overturned semi-truckload of hazardous chemicals could cause there? Heck, why worry about potential terrorists when risky highway projects are being planned virtually on top of public drinking water supplies, especially in a desert environment where such supplies are limited?
Add to that the fact that Alternatives C and D would also cross large areas of floodplain (shown in light blue and pink on the map above) and you a yet another recipe for disaster.
Toss into these issues the increased light pollution from traffic and new development and its negative effects on the Kitt Peak, Mt. Lemmon, and other important astronomical observatories. Do they really want to forever tarnish Tucson’s role as an astronomical research center for a few more miles of freeway and urban sprawl?
All said, as a professional land use planner, I cannot think of a worse location for a new highway. It’s almost like reading a dystopian novel or watching a James Bond film with ADOT as the evil villain. One hopes and prays that reason and logic would prevail, but in our world where only money talks, one can never be sure of anything.
The Sonoran Desert is not a giant child’s sandbox to play in and reshape in whatever manner we human’s desire. It is a delicate living ecosystem filled with amazing creatures and living organisms that should be cherished and preserved. One only need visit the desert or review Pima County’s award-winning Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan to see this.
If you agree with me and think Alternatives C and D for future I-11 are a really bad idea, then please write, email, call, text, or speak to elected officials, appointed officials, and other concerned citizens in an all out effort to stop the desecration and destruction of the Avra Valley. Contact information for some of these folks are listed below. It is time to say…and if necessary repeat over and over again, the word NO!