Proposed Interstate 11 opens up discussions on economic and environmental impacts

For some time now, there have been calls from those on all sides of our borders, including Canada and Mexico, to build a new highway connecting the North American countries to boost not only tourism but the flow of trade and commerce. Mexico, of course, is our biggest trade partner and Arizona acts as the gateway to open up trade opportunities for our southern neighbor with Canada.

Naturally, roads, highways and bridges are required to get something from Mexico City to, say, Vancouver, and our highway systems here in the state can’t handle all the congestion that can be seen at any time. The solution that has been proposed is a new highway route linking the southern border through Las Vegas and up to Canada. Known as Interstate 11, the ADOT-backed project has been going through environmental impact studies and is still seeking public sentiment and feedback to move forward or pull back.

I-11 has found support from those who want to see trade open up more as well as relieve our highways of traffic congestion. The new highway would predictably present an economic boost to our state by opening up new veins of trade flow and opportunities for travelers. But not everyone is on board as environmental advocates are looking at the highway as a threat to things like waterways.

“You’re always going to come across some natural challenges that have to be addressed, like washes and rivers,” said economic advisor Luis Ramirez. “No definite route has been selected and there are still swaths of road to be considered. Then there’s the funding availability that has to be looked at to find the money to invest in new highways.”

The 280-mile route would extend from Nogales, a major hub for the flow of goods and services like produce, to Wickenburg before splitting off to sub-portions that extend to Reno, Nevada, through Las Vegas. The highway is in planning stages at this point in time as environmental impacts are being considered as well as how to fund the entire project.

Currently, I-10 acts as the main artery for travel and trade traffic entering the U.S. and splitting off to head north to Canada or west to California. It is no stranger to hiccups like major congestion and roadwork delays, not to mention acting as a two-pronged solution to addressing traffic of all kinds.

“With I-10, between Phoenix and Tucson, you can’t continue to add more lanes to it” Ramirez said. “It’s only going to continue to become more congested. Then the discussion expands to go beyond the Phoenix to Vegas corridor…The flow of goods and people have been impacted because of all the congestion and issues with road work.”

Those opposed to the new highway have been murmuring about how it would impact things like water systems in the Avra Valley that lands right in the middle of the proposed route. Also, there are concerns related to wildlife and environmental issues of having a highway pass the western boundary of Saguaro National Park, possibly stepping over into the habitat of animals that inhabit the area. “Nearly a million people come in specifically to see Saguaro National Park and some of the other attractions in the area,” said Andy Fisher, a spokesperson for Saguaro National Park. “So we would definitely want to preserve that character if we can.”

Commercial traffic along the southern border through Nogales is growing on average of three percent year over year. So the argument of building a whole new highway to meet long-term growth has been championed by supporters of the highway.

“Having this new route would mean more products going anywhere throughout the U.S. and up to Canada,” Ramirez said. “The other thing that we want to remind people is that it flows both ways. This isn’t just about trade coming up from Mexico, but this also means trade and commerce coming down from Canada.”

Nick Esquer

1 comment

  • I believe this is a great idea especially now that the new trade agreement has come into place. I feel that construction could be done with care for environmental issues like has been done in northeastern Arizona.

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