Pima County supervisors are willing to look at a fresh proposal to build a 56-mile trade corridor. But two members of the Democratic majority expressed strong skepticism about its future.
The board voted to oppose the bypass route in 2007.
Supervisor Richard Elías said the same list of environmental concerns prompting the 2007 opposition are still valid today. The highway is seen as part of the larger Canamex trade corridor linking Mexico to Canada.
"The resources needed to mitigate the damage to wildlife corridor are significant," Elías said.
Those backing the proposal to build Interstate 11, including Gov. Jan Brewer, will also need more than the Board of Supervisors to sign off on the 56-mile highway. The Bureau of Reclamation and Tohono O'odham Nation would need to approve.
"It is very tricky, very tricky to accomplish that," Elías said.
Beyond the environmental and bureaucratic hurdles, Elías said such a complex proposal should not be supported solely because it offers economic advantages - it needs to be put into the full context of its true costs to community.
Supervisor Sharon Bronson says Interstate 11 supporters are refusing to acknowledge current economic realities. The state cannot afford the first mile of Interstate 11 going through Pima County, much less the other 55 miles.
"I don't know why we are talking about it (right now)," Bronson said.
Supervisor Ray Carroll, who voted with board to oppose a bypass highway in 2007, now sees potential with the new route to gain economic benefits while minimizing damage to the environment.
"There's no immediate call for a question on the route, so hopefully this can be worked out to expedite goods and commerce yet preserve the integrity of our fragile Sonoran Desert," Carroll said.
The road would veer off I-10 near Casa Grande, to run west of the Tucson Mountains and the San Xavier District of the Tohono O'odham Nation, connecting to I-19 near Sahuarita. From there, it would run east as part of the proposed Aerospace Parkway on the city's southeast side before reconnecting with I-10 near Rita Road, near the University of Arizona Tech Park, Port of Tucson and Target Fulfillment Center.
"I did not support the previous (proposal) due to its potential negative impacts on environmentally sensitive lands, which is in conflict with the Pima County goals for the Sonoran Conservation Plan. The differences are apparent in comparison to the new proposed route," he said.
County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry noted the proposal is at the earliest stage of a long-range planning process.
"It is important to actively pursue transportation improvements that will increase capacity and mobility through central Pima County in order to solidify the region's position as a logistics hub for international trade," Huckelberry said. "It makes no sense for this route to stop at the Gila River if we're serious about building a corridor to stimulate this area's economic development potential."
The interstate is being studied in two parts, said Michael Kies, director of planning and programming for the multi-modal planning division of the Arizona Department of Transportation.
The justification phase will help build support for implementing the route. The second would be reviewing the different routes through the state, said Kies, who complimented Pima County for proactively looking at potential routes.
Kies said the expected increase in manufacturing in Mexico, with a northbound flow of goods, makes the project critical.