A time exposure photo from Toltec Road over Interstate 10 between Eloy and Casa Grande. Some opponents of the proposed Interstate 11 would like it to share the same footprint with I-10 and I-19 in Southern Arizona before breaking away from I-10 closer to Phoenix.

Arizona officials recently took new steps toward the complete widening of Interstate 10 from Tucson to Phoenix by ensuring their fast-tracked study would be funded.

The Arizona Department of Transportation announced its tentative five-year plan with a primary focus on the I-10 project. Barring any unforeseen changes, the money documented in their plan will be used to complete a federally required study before construction in 2023 or sooner.

In November 2018, ADOT, the Maricopa Association of Governments and the Gila River Indian Community agreed to an 18-month study of the 23-mile corridor from Casa Grande to Phoenix that’s in need of some improvements, including the Gila River Bridge built in the 1960s.

“The proposal also reaches ADOT’s goal of allocating $260 million to $320 million per year for preservation of bridges and roadways throughout the $22.4 billion state highway system,” ADOT said about its plans in a news release.

According to ADOT, the I-10 Casa Grande to Phoenix corridor study is on a fast track to be completed so the next steps can be taken toward construction.

That comes as widening of the stretch between Casa Grande and Tucson nears completion. Motorists should be driving on three lanes both eastbound and westbound by the end of the summer.

With $100 million or more slated to be used on these improvements to I-10, some say it could be another reason to modify the proposed Interstate 11 route.

The proposed route for I-11 consists of a new 280-mile highway from Nogales through Wickenburg and up to the Nevada state line. With the new route, motorists would see a new road from Sahuarita that would divert west of I-10 to Wickenburg.

The idea behind the proposed I-11 route is to create a new road to accommodate increasing trade with Mexico and to divert heavy trucks away from I-10 and I-19, according to a draft environmental impact study by ADOT.

But opponents say I-11 is unnecessary.

“The study that shows the alternative of co-locating (I-11) along I-19 and I-10 from Nogales to Casa Grande would result in the same benefits for traffic,” said Kevin Dahl, Arizona’s senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.

With the no-build option, there wouldn’t be a new interstate but continued use of the expanded I-10 until the interstate separates to other locations near Phoenix.

“The purpose of this I-11 is to move produce north from Mexico, at least in this part of it, and the improvements that would come to I-10 would also improve the regular driving of many people in Tucson,” Dahl said.

Dahl said the co-location alternative would allow the state transportation department to make adjustments to I-10 as future needs call for.

The improvements to I-10 could also occur much sooner than an entirely new highway system. And Dahl believes even more could be done.

He mentioned a possible dedicated truck lane, future planning for automated driverless trucks and even scheduling a majority of trucks to operate during the night.

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Dahl said he believes there’s “technology that’s available or will soon be available that can accomplish those things.”

Is that all out of the realm of possibility? Probably not. Especially after TuSimple, a self-driving-truck company with major research and development operations in Tucson, reported in February it raised $95 million to ramp up its commercial service.

We can’t rule anything out just yet.

Down the Road

A Pima County road improvement project on West Valencia Road may cause minor delays this week.

There will be intermittent closures on eastbound Valencia between South Vahalla Road and South Iberia Avenue. The project should last from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each day until Saturday, May 24.

Motorists should use caution and watch for personnel in the area.

Contact Star reporter Shaq Davis at 573-4218 or sdavis@tucson.com

On Twitter: @ShaqDavis1

Reporter

Shaq is a public safety reporter and the Road Runner columnist, keeping readers up to date on transportation news. In 2017, he started as an apprentice and later worked part-time until graduating from the UA and being offered a full-time position in 2018.