You may have caught the Director of the Arizona Dept. of Transportation’s response to our recent report where we criticize plans to spend billions of dollars widening US-93 to Las Vegas to designate it as Interstate-11. While ADOT has made some good transportation strides in recent years, Arizona PIRG has a vision for our transportation system that differs from that of ADOT’s.
In fact, five years ago we authored a report that laid out 10 transportation projects at the top of our list to bring Arizona into a 21st Century for Transportation – some urban, some rural. What each project had in common was providing Arizonans with more options – whether it is by rail, bus, vanpool, bikable or walkable communities.
More recently, Arizona PIRG released research documenting the shift in how Arizonans travel – greater use of public transportation and biking, with less driving. We stated that the state should prioritize repairing and maintaining existing roads over building new and wider highways.
We have never disputed that I-11 would have some benefits, including the movement of freight. It would be hard to spend billions of dollars anywhere without creating some economic benefits for the present and the future. However, we have questioned and continue to question whether $2.5 billion just to build this interstate is the best used of limited taxpayer money. A decision to build I-11 is a decision not to move ahead with $2.5 billion in other transportation priorities.
ADOT Director John S. Halikowski suggests that I-11 is “a corridor for the future,” which is potentially true of any travel route. Promoters for every big infrastructure project, every sports arena, or shopping mall tout their project as just what the future needs. That’s why ADOT needed to justify the huge cost on something more specific in their planning documents. They argue that the highway enlargement is necessary to prevent “unacceptable levels of traffic congestion” in light of forecasts of growing volumes of traffic. Our report noted that those forecasts are inconsistent with ADOT’s actual traffic counts going back several years.
ADOT’s op-ed also talks about potential freight rail or electric transmissions near the corridor – all of which could be built without the interstate and isn’t the subject of our report or its cost estimates.
When you look hard at the official justifications for building I-11 and the actual numbers, it falls short on its own terms. Arizona PIRG’s position is that I-11 is not more deserving of our tax dollars than filling potholes or investing in other projects that would do more to reduce congestion, improve air quality, and provide greater travel choices. Some but certainly not all of the transportation projects that should be a higher priority would improve public transit, a travel mode that is experiencing record ridership, and which recent polling highlights is what Arizonans prefer.
For example, ADOT touts I-11; however, it fails to document what else we could get for $2.5 billion. ADOT has been conducting a rather thorough process for the Phoenix-Tucson passenger rail line in which citizens across our state have demonstrated support. There are a number of other proposals both in urban and rural Arizona that local communities would like to see happen, many highlighted in our report.
While we recognize ADOT has some constitutional constraints, the time is overdue for the Agency to lead an effort to remove these barriers and instead move forward with the options that Arizonans want and need.