Our View: I-11 needs to take existing routes or it will face terminal delays

May 7, 2019

It’s not uncommon for large road projects to be put off because of environmental and political hurdles as well as the expense.

It’s too common, in fact, and Arizonans are getting a good taste of those issues following the release of an environmental study of a proposed new interstate highway segment planned for southern Arizona.

The concerns? The stretch of Interstate 11 would disrupt animal movement and come close to Saguaro National Park. These seem like mere speedbumps but they are not. It’s simply hard to build new roads because each one disrupts life, whether human or animal.

Interstate 11 is the road that is supposed to ease commerce from the Mexican border northward. It is to run from Nogales to Reno, Nev. A lot of the interstate routing follows existing highways such as U.S. 93 in northern Arizona. A small segment in Nevada was constructed separately.

The beginning piece is a big question mark. Southern Arizona freeways are already at or near capacity, with Interstate 10 hardly able to handle existing traffic between Phoenix and Tucson. A new highway from Nogales northward would ease congestion on I-10 and I-19.

Aside from the ever-expanding freeway rings around Phoenix, it’s hard to identify major new highways in Arizona in the past three decades. Getting them built is just too difficult. Legal costs and environmental studies add to exorbitant price tags.

Interstate 11 is important to the whole state, including our region. It’s vital that it get done. It’s clear that the best way to make it happen is to follow existing routings of Interstate 10 and Interstate 19.

Make them 10 lanes wide. Make them double-decker. The end result will likely be quicker and less costly than finding new routes that satisfy everyone.

Supporters of I-11 may take heart that President Trump and top Democrats just agreed to a $2 million infrastructure plan. Unfortunately, there was no agreement on how to pay for it. Nor is it likely the Congress will even agree on what the word “infrastructure” means. Is it windmills or roads?

The bipartisan push for infrastructure may help boost I-11 but it will get the biggest assist if road routings and similar work are firmly in place. “Shovel ready” would be an appropriate term, one resurrected from the Great Recession.

— Today’s News-Herald