The Proposed Interstate -11: Phoenix and the Amalgamation.

Key points. 

-Opposition to the sprawl inducing Hassayampa freeway alignment.

-Support for an alignment that realizes Phoenix’s primacy, stimulating infill and density over sprawl.

-Key requirement being the co-development of regional rail and improvements for future commuter rail.

-In this case, Phoenix’s regional primacy needs to be asserted to insist on smarter growth. 

I grew up at 88th Avenue and Pinnacle Peak, this is when 83rd Avenue was a two lane road and citrus trees lined both sides. Most of the land around our house was still desert, and so the desert was kind of my backyard. Seeing suburban sprawl overtake most of places I spent my childhood is part of why I am now such an ardent urbanist. This background makes me believe that if the I-11 project comes to fruition, it should be part of a larger ‘smart growth’ strategy, and I feel the current proposal is deficient in that regard. 

Background:

The Arizona Department of Transportation and Nevada Department of Transportation are working together on the Interstate 11 (I-11) and Intermountain West Corridor Study that includes detailed corridor planning of a possible high-priority Interstate link between Phoenix, Arizona, and Las Vegas, Nevada (I-11), as well as high-level visioning for potentially extending the Corridor north to Canada and south to Mexico (the Intermountain West Corridor). The Corridor is proposed to include an upgraded highway facility, but it could be paired with rail and other major infrastructure components—such as energy and telecommunications—to serve the nation’s needs from Mexico to Canada.

The study finds that the I-11 and Intermountain West Corridor is indeed justified and that the Corridor is needed for the following key reasons:

  •  Transportation is a key enabler of economic development. 

  •  There is currently a lack of sufficient north-south capacity for existing goods movement or any increase in economic activity in Arizona and Nevada. 

  •  The effective integration of the economies of the Southwest Triangle mega region (Southern California, Sun Corridor, and Las Vegas) will require continuing investment in transportation capacity over the planning horizon of the study. This mega region, and particularly the cities of Phoenix and Las Vegas, are poorly served by surface transportation when compared to other U.S. cities of comparable size and proximity, and the areas lacks sufficient connectivity to the rest of the Intermountain West.             (I-11 AND INTERMOUNTAIN WEST CORRIDOR STUDY- Draft 7-2-13)

First let me be clear what parts of the current proposal I agree with. 

  1. The need for faster and easer passenger and commercial transport between Nogales, Tucson, Phoenix and Las Vegas. Especially as Arizona tries to compete with Texas and California for cross border trade. 
  2. The minimal changes to US-95 between Las Vegas and Wickenburg required to upgrade the designation.
  3. Infrastructure for freight and passenger rail between the two cities.
  4. Tying the new Interstate into any of the current or future state highways that are part of the regional plan. I may not completely agree with the current plan but that is another post entirely.

I am completely against the following part of the proposal.

  1. The Hassayampa freeway. This is the section slated to run completely around Phoenix and tie into I-10 around Casa Grande. (I am taking to calling this Loop 909)
  2. Any proposal that is not in conjunction with regional, Intercity rail lines (Tucson, Phoenix, Las Vegas) and future right of way use for commuter rail. 

                                       ImageMap #1

Explanation:

The Hassayampa freeway (see map #1) runs from Wickenburg down to I-10 then loops around to run parallel with I-8 separated by very few miles in some sections. One of the big supposed selling points of I-11 is that Phoenix and Las Vegas are the only million plus population cities not connected by interstate. I hate to be the one to point out that the current proposal never gets closer to Phoenix than Buckeye. (40 miles from Downtown) 

This loop around is all about one thing. Providing access for building large master planed communities between the White tanks and Hassayampa River. The entire section from Wickenburg to I-10 is incorporated into the City of Buckeye, and is being published as a possible PPP (private public partnership) highway between the developers and ADOT. It is being sold as a way to bypass Phoenix congestion and reduce pollution, just as as 101,202, and 303 were before. Currently 100 communities have been approved for this corridor, which of course will only add to the congestion and pollution. This has to be viewed as an attempt to add one more ring of sprawl to the Phoenix metro landscape, all to benefit leap frog developers.

I believe what would be best for Phoenix is to instead continue the Southeast alignment down US 60/Grand Ave to I-17. I’m sure many will disagree but let me briefly explain why and how. 

Why:

The expected growth of the Phoenix region from 4.2 million to 8 million requires a massive re-working of the current development model. Most of the regional plans are in expectation of the 4 million new residents to add to the circumference of the city, building 4th and 5th generation suburban rings. However, given current demographic shifts, and the unsustainable nature of such expansive sprawl, we should be planning for a different scenario. We have to expect, plan, and provide tools for up to 50% of the population growth to take place on city infill lots and through increased urban core densification. The current regional transportation plan does not address this adequately. 

Part of the I-11 proposal is the mention of a high speed rail corridor between Phoenix and Las Vegas. I highly doubt any plans for passenger rail service between the two cities would not follow the current rail alignment down US 60 into Downtown Phoenix thus requiring possible signal and grade separation through the traditional and historic urban cores that sit along the highway.Grand Avenue (US-60) is still a hodgepodge of partial flyovers, train crossings, worthless intersections, and historic access roads, reminding me of the urban patched highways of Bombay more than anywhere else I’ve ever been. It is a massive problem and an amazing asset for anyone wanting to see Phoenix build with density and in-fill rather than sprawl and jump development. 

How:

(see map #2)

Continuing a major interstate through historic Wickenburg without destroying or economically isolating the city is a problem. A bypass may not be the answer, but neither is a direct shot through the town.Upgrading the junction at SR-74 which is already now part of the projected regional system gives the first access to North Phoenix and Cave Creek. A full interchange at the 303 loop provides additional eastward access and allows connection to I-10 west. 303 is already slighted to continue south from I-10 to the 808 and then tie into SR-85 and serve as access to I-8 east and west. I will call this ‘Phoenix bypass #3’.

From 303 to 101 there are limited crossings and a standard urban freeway template could be used. The tracks on the western side of the roadway do create extra hight requirements and complicated on/off ramp issues but nothing that hasn’t been done before. The connection to 101 provides further east/west and north/south connections including access to the future south mountain loop 202, ‘Phoenix bypass #2’.

From this point things get complicated, but again non of these problems are new or unprecedented. Peoria has already planed to lower and deck portions of US-60 in-order to re-unify its downtown. I would assume this would happen in Glendale maybe Surprise and possibly at other strategic locations in Phoenix (think Big dig I-93 but before things get too congested). All of this would finally end at I-17 providing I-11 actual access to Phoenix and of course the original ‘downtown bypass #1’, I-17 south. 

US-60/ Grand Avenue from I-17 to VanBuren than should be given historic status as the City’s western gateway, building on the work already being done. With dedicated passenger rail lines now along this key corridor commuter rail is all the more possible stoping at the historic town sites and key locations between Wickenburg and Phoenix downtown. With both additional interstate connectivity and rail options infill and denser development will be constructed along this route as opposed to adding to sprawl between the White Tank Mountains and the Hassayampa River bed. 

Yes, this will be more expensive. Yes, this would be a complicated project, but anyone who doesn’t foresee it having to happen in the next 40 years anyway is making a huge mis-judgment on the future development of the region, and the demographic changes occurring nation wide. The I-11 designation would just add the possibility of federal funds to a project that will help the Phoenix region develop and grow smart instead of irresponsibly. 

The City of Phoenix (with the help of all Grand Avenue cities) needs to use all of it’s leverage with ADOT, and MAG to mandate that any Phoenix to Las Vegas transportation corridor benefits in-fill growth and smart development. While Phoenix has very little leverage over the other local municipalities. It does have de facto political power because of its primacy. The project is being sold on the claim that it connects the two big metropolitan cities. Phoenix needs to make clear that the current proposal falls short of that claim and thus diminishes the possible economic impact of the project. The mere threat of losing any Federal support should be enough to make most State and regional officials contemplate modifying the plan.

 Image

Map #2

ImageMap #3

Jeffery is a native Phoenix area resident and lives in the Downtown Evans Churchill neighborhood. He has a Masters in Globalization and Development from The University of Sussex – Institute of Development Studies and a Political Science B.A. From A.S.U. He currently works as a Project Manager for a Phoenix based small business. All opinions are strictly his own. All rights on written and creative ideas are reserved.

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2 thoughts on “The Proposed Interstate -11: Phoenix and the Amalgamation.

  1. Pingback: 2013 Review and Update | phxdowntown

  2. Brad Hartliep

    Running the rail service along the I-17/I-10 corridor through downtown/skyharbor and along Grand Ave out to Wickenburg makes sense, but I believe vehicular and especially commercial truck traffic should be run as far away as practicable. Growing up in Tucson, and still spending significant portions of my life in Arizona, I have experienced PHX traffic many times over the decades. I have also lived in both San Antonio and Dallas Fort Worth and the Loops around these cities are far more useful for moving heavy loads of traffic across and out of town than the highways through the center of the city, which are often hampered by inter-urban, cross-flow and local inflow and exit traffic. The congestion through Central PHX is already grossly overburdened – especially for traffic traveling to locations outside of the MSA – and should be restricted, as much as possible, to primarily inter-city work-flow and the already established I-10 traffic to and from LA and Tucson. Grand Avenue to 303 to either 202 or, preferably, I-8 seems to make the most sense for a decent flow of traffic along the Vegas-PHX-TSN-Nogales run. 202 is questionable only to the extent of growth support (including I-10 north of Casa Grande) beyond the current limits of traffic congestion. Obviously south of I-8, lane load drops significantly and you’re dealing primarily with Tucson-based traffic. Last I checked, traffic to Yuma/San Diego was still relatively light, in terms of I-8 infrastructure, and should be able to handle the additional Vegas traffic for the short distance to I-11, so building a new interstate system parallel to I-8 on the North side Casa Grande (instead of on the south side of Casa Grande) makes absolutely no sense, unless someone has come to the conclusion that the current I-8/I-10/Railhead mess of an accident-causing interchange is unfixable – in which case moving to 202 is probably the better option. In any case, using existing road base, and improving the structures to handle proposed increased traffic, is much more preferable to promoting further urban sprawl in a water-crunched environment already taxed by overpopulation requirements on its ever-dwindling water supply ..

    Reply

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