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Bipartisan infrastructure bill could provide funding for I-10 widening
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CASA GRANDE — President Joe Biden’s signing of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Acts Monday means a financial windfall to Arizona in the form of $5 billion for highway improvement projects.

Some of that money could eventually get earmarked for widening Interstate 10 between Chandler and Casa Grande, but that process still could take months.

According to Casa Grande Mayor Craig McFarland, a major impact of the infrastructure bill is that it nearly triples the amount of money available in competitive grants, such as the Transportation Department’s RAISE grants program.

“My hope is that between state and federal grants, we can attack them for I-10 monies,” McFarland said.

McFarland noted that despite some stated support from Arizona members of Congress like Sen. Mark Kelly and Rep. Greg Stanton, there is no money directly earmarked as of yet from the bill to I-10 widening.

Representatives with the Arizona Department of Transportation said they were still reviewing the infrastructure law and, due to the complexity of the legislation, it was too early to discuss details on any Arizona projects.

Tom Dorn, president of the Dorn Policy Group Inc., which has lobbied for I-10 widening, also credited state Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, for working in the state Legislature to secure funds. Further funding is expected to be discussed in the 2022 legislative session.

The roughly 20-mile stretch between Riggs Road and Casa Grande, which runs through the Gila River Indian Community, is estimated to need over $600 million for widening by a lane on both sides. It could be done in a piecemeal manner based on what is necessary for each interchange; at least one interchange, at Seed Farm Road, will be a new exit off the highway.

Aaron Dorman / Arizona Department of Transportation 

Diagram from an August presentation on widening I-10, shows what a new diamond interchange at Seed Farm Road might look like; currently there is just an overpass.

Aaron Dorman / Arizona Department of Transportation 

Updated renderings of a potential expanded overpass at the I-10/White Horse Pass interchange just south of the 202-Loop. The interchange is where a 30-mile portion of I-10 begins that is only four lanes down to Casa Grande, a stretch known for traffic accidents and delays.

The Maricopa Association of Governments currently has around $150 million secured to add lanes between the Loop 202 interchange and Riggs Road. Work is also underway to renovate the Gila River bridges.

Before any construction can be done, planning, such as environmental impact assessments, needs to take place, which itself is a costly process.

Several segments of the I-10 project have been assigned engineering designers, and a Stage 1 level design was underway as of this past August, but an environmental assessment and public hearing prior to construction is not expected to take place until late 2022.

“Infrastructure is insanely expensive,” McFarland said.

Along I-10, the other project that could compete with funding is the “Broadway Curve” portion of the highway, an 11-mile stretch roughly between Loop 202 and I-17. Construction has already begun on that stretch and will continue through 2024.

That and the Chandler-Casa Grande stretch are considered the current major choke points along the interstate.

“This weekend was horrific,” McFarland said of driving on the freeway, which is notorious for slowdowns and accidents. McFarland said he was held up for about an hour each way on trips to and from the Phoenix region.

The widening of I-10 isn't the only major freeway project in Arizona officials say could benefit from the legislation.

Scott Higginson, executive director of the Interstate 11 Coalition, was also excited the bill passed.

"President Biden’s signature of the bi-partisan infrastructure bill is a monumental moment for the American people and for Arizonans as the bill provides an opportunity for our state to receive significant federal funding, previously unavailable, to support the next stage in the development of Interstate 11," Higginson said in a statement. "This critical new corridor connecting Mexico, Phoenix, and Las Vegas, is a highway of national significance and has been a top priority for Arizona leaders. Interstate 11 will bring new benefits and economic growth by providing statewide increases in commerce, trade and tourism to Arizona, while relieving congestion in downtown Phoenix as well as along I-10 and I-17."

The proposed route for the I-11 corridor in southern Arizona would go through Pinal County.

Lucid Air named 2022 MotorTrend Car of the Year
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NEWARK, Calif. — MotorTrend announced Monday that the Lucid Air has been named 2022 MotorTrend Car of the Year, the first instance in which the initial product from a new automotive brand has been awarded the “Golden Calipers.”

MotorTrend’s Car of the Year award is considered one of the most prestigious in the automotive industry.

“Earning this coveted distinction for Lucid Air, our very first car, is a resounding endorsement of our ability to deliver the most advanced electric vehicles in the world,” said Peter Rawlinson, CEO/CTO, Lucid Group. “Our objective of achieving range through efficiency and technical innovation is crystallized in Lucid Air, and we’re elated that this effort has been recognized by MotorTrend against such formidable competition from well-established automakers.”

MotorTrend Car of the Year judges evaluated six key criteria for Car of the Year, with Lucid Air excelling at each: efficiency, value, advancement in design, engineering excellence, safety and performance of the intended function. The Lucid Air was evaluated side by side with 24 highly regarded vehicles, coming out on top against finalists that included the Mercedes-Benz S Class, Mercedes-Benz EQS, Porsche Taycan, Honda Civic and many more.

“With the longest driving range of any electric vehicle on the market, an EPA estimated 520 miles, and over 1,100 horsepower available, the Lucid Air is a technological tour de force,” said MotorTrend Group Head of Editorial Ed Loh. “The sleek futuristic Lucid Air sedan looks like nothing else on the road, while its gorgeous, smartly-packaged interior sets the standard for the next generation of luxury cars. Against our award’s criteria, there could be no doubt — the Lucid Air is MotorTrend’s 2022 Car of the Year.”

Lucid recently started customer deliveries of Lucid Air manufactured at its Casa Grande plant.

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Pinal Spotlight: Dennis Dugan, founder of Pinal 40
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CASA GRANDE — For Casa Grande resident and longtime dairy farmer Dennis Dugan, a desire to help the young people of Pinal County was the motivation for starting the charitable organization Pinal 40 in 2014.

“I wanted to start Pinal 40 because there was nothing like it in Pinal County that was dedicated to helping the children and youth here,” Dugan said.

In its seven-year history, Pinal 40 has raised and given away more than $870,000.

At its next gala, the organization hopes to continue its fundraising efforts, raising more money for youth programs and scholarships.

The gala, which includes a reception, dinner and concert, is set for Saturday, Nov. 20. Country music artist Sara Evans is scheduled to perform.

Money is also raised each year through the organization’s golf tournament.

Pinal 40 “is a fraternity of community members organized with the primary objective of promoting Pinal County, its youth as well as farming and agriculture-related businesses. Philanthropically, Pinal 40 and its membership focus on providing support and funding for youth and education through agribusiness-related scholarships and support of local charities,” the organization’s website says.

Membership in Pinal 40 is capped at 40 members. Once joining the organization, each member must meet a fundraising goal each year, Dugan said.

Much of the money is raised at various events, including its annual gala (which wasn’t held in 2020 due to the pandemic) and a golf tournament.

All the money raised by the group stays in Pinal County, supporting young people and agriculture.

Over the years, Pinal 40 has given more than $314,000 in scholarships to college-bound teens hoping for a career in or supporting the agriculture industry. More than $230,000 has been given to the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sun Corridor.

The organization has also provided grants to various organizations including the Special Olympics, FFA, Seeds of Hope, Boy Scouts, 4-H and others

Dugan, who has a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education, has long been involved in community issues.

He serves on the Casa Grande Planning and Zoning Commission and has also served as a board member of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic School, the board of the United Dairymen of Arizona and the Knights of Columbus.

Prior to starting Pinal 40, he started and ran an organization called the Dugans’ St. Patrick’s Foundation, which raised money for area young people.

Over the years, the Dugans’ St. Patrick Foundation awarded thousands of dollars to area organizations and students.

His family has been operating dairies in Pinal County since 1981. Prior to that, the family’s dairy operations were in Chandler.

While Dugan started Pinal 40 and remains a member, he no longer serves as president. Bobby Wuertz is the organization’s current leader.

More information about the organization is online at pinal40.org.

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Warrant issued for Texas man accused of attempting to blow up Sacaton gas station
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FLORENCE — A warrant has been issued for a man facing charges after he allegedly attempted to blow up a Sacaton gas station in March.

According to Pinal County Superior Court records, Basil Esa Auso, 39, is charged with arson. On March 30, he allegedly set a garbage can on fire at a gas station in Sacaton. When police officers arrived he told them that there was a bomb in the trash can and another in his car. He also allegedly claimed he was a member of ISIS.

Auso’s attorney told the court Monday that Auso had contacted him and told him that he was currently in Washington state and was attempting to see his doctor for some health problems. Auso’s attorney asked the court to continue the hearing for 30 days.

Prosecutors asked that a warrant be issued for his arrest.

Auso’s attorney reminded the court that Auso was a military veteran and was dealing with some health issues.

Judge Steven Fuller granted the request to continue the hearing and issued a warrant for Auso’s arrest.