MARICOPA — The proposed Interstate 11 corridor that could go through the Maricopa area is causing a feud with those residing in the Hidden Valley and Thunderbird Farms area.
The project of the Arizona Department of Transportation is in its early stages of planning, with the public comment period ending on Tuesday.
The extensive project is to create a north-south highway between Nogales and Wickenburg, eventually connecting U.S. markets to Canada and Mexico. It has been considered for more than 25 years and has finally started the beginning stages of the project in various segments, including through the city of Maricopa.
According to David Maestas, transportation policy manager for the city, the Tier 1 environmental impact study is the first federal document in the process. The public comment period has been open for about three months and has given residents a chance to provide input on the planned corridor.
“They want to know how the people feel for the corridor or against it,” Maestas said. “In particular they’d like to see reasons why they either favor it or don’t want it. That’s the important part of the process.”
After gathering up all of the comments from public agencies and the residents, ADOT will produce a record of decision, which will mean finalizing the recommended corridor — set to be presented in the fall of 2020.
An advocate group that is against this expansion has created fliers to notify the residents of the area of what’s to come from the project. The organizer of the group, Mary Flanagan, remembers getting a single postcard in the mail in April about the I-11 study that ADOT had conducted. The postcard mentioned a public meeting time for a project update.
Attending a meeting, she discovered that one of the proposed routes went right through the rural Hidden Valley and Thunderbird Farms area, where she resides.
She then decided to let her neighbors become aware of the project and to speak up against it. She said her property values would decline with noise and congestion from the freeway.
“It’s going to affect my silence out there, it’ll affect my night sky and the quiet of my community, which I really value,” Flanagan said. “All of the things we enjoy out here.”
The group has pushed the idea of using the "Orange Route," which is a pathway from State Route 85 and across Interstate 8. However, the proposed route is a difficult option for ADOT, as critics call it not feasible and an unpopular route for current drivers.
“Just because we change the name to I-11, no one is still going to use the highway,” said Maricopa Mayor Christian Price.
According to Maestas, the orange route was ruled out as a recommended corridor since there now is access to the corridor but the traffic remains light. Another factor is that it is inconveniently out of the way for drivers going through the area.
Maestas said it is always a possibility that negative public comments could affect the route of the interstate.
“There are a number of factors that’s come into play when they decide which final corridor they go with,” he said.
According to Maestas, a big factor that was cited in the studies was the lack of high-capacity corridors in west-central Pinal County. It became a primary reason why the state decided to use the current recommended corridor, going through the Hidden Valley area.
High-capacity roadways are typically built to carry high-density traffic and would be a parkway-size facility with a minimum of four lanes.
Price wants the residents to understand the bigger picture of the project and the potential good for the people of Arizona.
“Economic development, industries and transportation is what an I-11 brings,” Mayor Price said. “People don’t realize how important amazing transportation is.”
During the current stage of Tier 1, ADOT has located a potential area equivalent to 2,000 feet for the placement of the highway. Currently the area goes through the Hidden Valley and Thunderbird Farms districts, yet it is uncertain where the freeway would go exactly.
Tier 2 will follow the first stage of the project, with an in-depth environmental study that will narrow the location down from 2,000 feet to 400. Although the exact location will be narrowed down during this stage, ADOT will not be able to go forward with the project until there is an identified funding source.
“My job as a mayor and as a leader in my community is to see the bigger picture,” Price said. “And think about how I can help my entire community prosper.”
Price gave few examples of various cities in the metro Phoenix area, such as Chandler and Gilbert, that have prospered in economic development through incorporating freeways through their cities.
“If you see a major freeway, it will change our outlook forever,” Price said. “It will also provide another pathway to Maricopa.”
The advocacy group hosts meetings once a month to consider ways to stop I-11 from affecting their area. The group has reached out to the state Legislature on the issue, inviting the officials to their homes to show the potentially affected neighborhoods.
The next meeting for the group will be held this Thursday at 7 p.m. at 8599 N. Warren Road.
Flanagan urges others to put their comments out and raise awareness for the upcoming process on the project.