Picture Rocks community activist Albert Lannon is most interested in the way he thinks things ought to be, rather than how they are.
Long an advocate for public transportation and food services for the needy in his area, Lannon’s latest cause is protecting Picture Rocks from a proposed Interstate 11 freeway that would stretch 56 miles, part of it through Avra Valley.
Picture Rocks is an unincorporated community in Avra Valley, near Saguaro National Park West and North Sandario Road.
Lannon is trying to convince government entities, including Pima County, the Pima Association of Governments and the federal government, that I-11 would harm the environment and cause unwelcome noise pollution and sprawl.
He’s pushing an alternative plan, to build a two-mile double-decker freeway on top of Interstate 10, to spare Avra Valley from the freeway development he dreads.
Lannon, 76, leads the 200-member Avra Valley Coalition, which writes public officials and shows up at public meetings to support the cause.
We spoke to Lannon about his efforts:
Q: Do you feel as though you are making any headway in convincing the powers-that-be to avoid the Avra Valley freeway option?
A: The good news is small, but it is there. The Interstate 11 planners and the Pima Association of Governments study have begun working on I-10 as an alternative to an Avra Valley highway. They have not come out in favor of it, but at least are viewing it now as a viable alternative.
Q: How much progress do you think you’ve made?
A: I think we’ve gotten their attention. I think that the issues that are there are major issues that are not going to go away. According to the (Arizona Department of Transportation) numbers, building a double-decker freeway would save almost $2 billion. That will force them to pay attention. You can ruin Avra Valley or you can save taxpayers $2 billion. That’s your choice.
Q: What environmental impact would an Avra Valley freeway have?
A: The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Saguaro National Park and Ironwood Forest National Monument would all be impacted due to traffic noise and a variety of physical effects. It would also encourage urban sprawl. Development follows highways. ... The area is home to a lot of desert wildlife, and it would ruin desert views.
Q: What will it take to stop the freeway plan?
A: Public debate, which is starting to happen. I think the more that it happens, the more issues get aired and informed decisions can get made.
Q: At what point would you give up your fight?
A: At age 76, my wife likes to call us ‘kamikaze elders.’ What could they possibly do to me if I sat down in front of a bulldozer? Arrest a man with heart trouble, lung trouble and a bad back? I hope it doesn’t come to that and that reason will prevail. There are alternatives out there.
Q: You would really sit in front of a bulldozer?
A: I believe there comes a point where civil disobedience is the only way to stop things and get their attention.