City business and political leaders have endorsed the notion of having a new interstate run through the Tucson region, saying they fear the area will become economically irrelevant without it.

During a meeting Thursday of the Transportation and Trade Corridor Alliance, state officials were urged to incorporate Tucson into a future proposal for Interstate 11, a trade corridor connecting Las Vegas to Phoenix and running south to Mexico.

While not endorsing a particular route, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities Inc. say an interstate link from Phoenix that does not run through the Tucson region would be a crippling setback.

“If we get bypassed, all the companies that consider regional relocation will not consider us,” CEO Joe Snell said of TREO’s decision to endorse an I-11 route. “If we’re not part of the I-11, we’ll be irrelevant economically.”

The recovering economy in Mexico has prompted more trade activity through Arizona, and leaders are looking to capitalize on that growth by luring the distribution and logistics industry to the state.

“This is going to happen with or without us. Eventually I-11 will be aligned,” Snell said. “It needs to go through the Tucson region to Nogales. Without it, we don’t have a chance.”

Rothschild urged members of the Transportation and Trade Corridor Alliance to turn to the region’s mayors for support of such a project.

“Mayors can be your best partners,” he said. “We have direct relations with constituents.”

He said people are starting to understand the potential benefits of a large distribution industry.

“Tucson is excited about and engaged in developing the Tucson region as a logistics hub,” Rothschild said. “There is fierce competition from nearby states. As such we need all hands on deck.”

Established last year, the Transportation and Trade Corridor Alliance is a combined effort among the Arizona Department of Transportation, Arizona-Mexico Commission and the Arizona Commerce Authority under the direction of the governor.

Its directive is to bring public and private sectors, transportation and logistics companies and port authorities together to assess the viability of the distribution industry in the state. It is chaired by former U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe and ADOT Director John Halikowski.

Alliance members were shown a proposed route through Pima County that was unveiled earlier this year by Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.

The 56-mile path, west of the city, would run behind the Tucson Mountains and the San Xavier District of the Tohono O’odham Nation to connect with I-19 near Sahuarita.

Huckelberry told Alliance members the route would have minimal impact on residential property and environmentally sensitive lands.

He noted that trade-related traffic is expected to grow from about 175,000 vehicles a day currently to nearly 300,000 by 2030.

“This isn’t work travel, it’s trade travel,” he said. “We need to facilitate that travel through the corridor.”

Contact reporter Gabriela Rico at or 573-4232.