The Pima County Board of Supervisors approved a big down payment Tuesday on an $8 million project to relocate Hughes Access Road from South Nogales Highway to South Alvernon Way.

The board approved a $1.75 million planning and design contract for a new alignment of the road, which runs just south of the area's largest private employer, Raytheon Missile Systems.

The plan is to move the road 2,500 feet south of its current alignment.

The shift could allow the defense contractor to expand its operations and buffers it from increasing traffic volume on the road.

Pima County officials started working on the realignment shortly after Raytheon decided in 2011 to locate a $75 million missile factory in space available at a park in Huntsville, Ala.

A facility management director at Raytheon told the Pima County Bond Advisory Committee in November the key reason those 300 jobs weren't added to the Tucson site is the company doesn't have any more room to grow here unless it moves its safety buffer.

A year later, the county purchased nearly 400 acres south of Raytheon's Tucson plant to help address urban encroachment.

County officials envision the area will become part of an "aerospace and defense corridor" where a new 10-mile parkway will attract compatible companies inside of a new state-of-the-art research and business park.

"Raytheon Missile Systems supports the Pima County Board of Supervisors' decision to fund design work on the realignment of Hughes Access Road near our plant site," said John Patterson, a spokesman for Raytheon. "Preventing encroachment will help us maintain our footprint here and grow if business conditions warrant expansion."

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said earlier this year that the effort to build a new road was "probably the most important economic development project to come along in 30 years" for Pima County.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Ramón Valadez said it was an important first step in supporting Raytheon.

"Pima County remains committed to protecting Raytheon's 10,000-plus existing jobs while also creating an overall environment that is attractive for new economic growth opportunities, whether for existing employers or for new ones," Valadez said.

The $1.75 million design project will be funded out of Highway User Revenue Funds.

The county has set aside $6.25 million in HURF funds to build the road once the design plans are complete, which could take up to 18 months.

Raytheon pays an estimated $130 million in state and local taxes annually.

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at or 573-4346.