Albert Lannon: Building Interstate 11 through Avra Valley would hurt people, wildlife

2014-06-04T00:00:00Z Albert Lannon: Building Interstate 11 through Avra Valley would hurt people, wildlifeBy Albert Lannon Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A two-year planning process by the Arizona and Nevada departments of transportation to prepare for a future Interstate 11 “Canamex Highway” is ending. A May 21 stakeholders meeting in Tucson finalized a draft “business case” for the controversial multibillion-dollar highway.

Michael Kies, the Arizona department’s director of planning and programming, said that building I-11 between Las Vegas and Nogales, Arizona, would create “240,000 new high-paying, good benefits jobs” in the two states.

When asked the basis for the claim, Kies referred to the Corridor Justification Report posted on the department’s website. A review of those 285 pages showed that much data is based on “assumptions,” “projections,” “forecasts,” ”potential” and imagining. They may “over-estimate due to double-counting some factors.” All numbers and quotations I refer to are from ADOT.

The key words in the projections are “nearshoring” and “integrative manufacturing.” The planners predict that, as Chinese wages rise, Mexico will become more attractive to corporations. With U.S. manufacturing labor costs at 100 on an ADOT index, China is 5 and Mexico 12. As “trade with Mexico expands,” the report argues, so will “the current trend of moving manufactured goods production … to Mexico. ... Mexico was the most popular choice for nearshoring, where hourly compensation costs are nearly as low as China.”

The report suggests “industry clusters” and “integrative manufacturing” to house the making of parts in the U.S., with assembly in Mexico. Kies told the stakeholders, “Mexico is happening!”

The report discusses planned improvements at the Mexican port of Guaymas for container traffic. That impacts high-paying jobs in the West Coast stevedoring, trucking and warehouse industries. The report discusses receiving even more goods from Asia as another “alternative future scenario.”

In their discussion of marketing I-11 to the public, the pitch is “enhancing economic vitality” and “commercial opportunities.” I-11 is being sold as a way for corporations to make more money. Period. There is no expressed interest in workers except as cheap labor across the border.

Concern for workers is also missing in the proposed methods of financing I-11: increased gas taxes, truck tolls, toll roads and mileage-based user fees, along with general tax dollars.

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry’s proposal to build a 56-mile segment of I-11 through the Avra Valley will destroy the remote conditions that bring visitors to Saguaro Park, Desert Museum, Ironwood Forest and Kitt Peak Observatory and will hurt tourism.

There will be temporary construction jobs created by the Huckelberry Highway, but long-term employment servicing the present I-10 corridor through Tucson will be negatively impacted. Huckelberry is pushing hard for the eastern leg of his highway to be built very soon.

The alternative to the Avra Valley route, double-decking a few miles of I-10 in Tucson, would also create construction jobs, and would cost one-third that of a new highway, saving taxpayers nearly $2 billion. Those are ADOT’s numbers.

The report warns that possible alternatives are “less likely” if “water shortages … constrain growth.” Both states are in the second decade of a severe drought, with Colorado River water allotments subject to rationing.

To spend billions of taxpayer dollars and threaten people and wildlife for a “vision” is wrong. To sell I-11 by saying it will create jobs while promoting the export of American jobs is very wrong.

Albert Lannon is a member of the Avra Valley Coalition. Email him at albertlannon@powerc.net

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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