In a zeal to support its urban-focused, transit-or-nothing agenda, the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) has ignored important considerations about the proposed Interstate 11 corridor, including the facts about the future of freight traffic in Arizona and the growing transportation needs across the state.
OUR VIEW: I-11 is no 'boondoggle'
In suggesting the Arizona Department of Transportation is using inaccurate or obsolete data in analyzing the I-11 corridor, PIRG fails to recognize the true needs facing the transportation system across Arizona and the critical role the movement of freight will play in our economic future.
Freight shipments are expected to triple in Arizona by 2050, exceeding 600 billion tons on Arizona's highways a year. And, as the population of the state continues to grow, so, too, will the needs of our transportation network — including highways and mass-transit opportunities.
I-11 isn't a highway for today. This is a corridor for the future — a future in Arizona that has the state at the center of a worldwide economy.
I-11 is not about enhancing the drive to Las Vegas for tourists. This corridor — which could include a highway, passenger and freight rail, and energy transmission — is about moving freight through Arizona safely and efficiently. There will be benefits for tourist traffic, but the investment in I-11 will support the state's growing business sectors and our position in the modern economy. Just like the vision regional planners had for the Valley's freeway system in the 1960s, ADOT today has to look at the needs of the future.
PIRG also fails to recognize the largely rural nature of transportation in Arizona. While some young urbanites might prefer transit over new highways, that's not a practicable option outside of the Phoenix and Tucson regions. Arizona is a large state with transportation challenges that cannot and will not be solved by transit alone.
ADOT continues to study a Phoenix-to-Tucson passenger rail line, recognizing that I-10 cannot be the only choice for travel between these two major regions in the future. We need alternatives, but you can't move freight by bus. We have to consider all options to meet the needs of passenger cars, trucks, rail, transit, air traffic, pedestrians and bikes.
Despite PIRG's claims, ADOT is investing more than 40 percent of its highway budget in preserving and protecting the current highway system. This spending on preservation secures our investment in highways that taxpayers have made over the decades, and ensures that we have the infrastructure we need for the demands of today and the future.
At ADOT, we are obligated to look forward and consider the future needs and demands of our transportation system. The "transportation system" must contribute to ensuring that Arizonans both today and tomorrow have provided no less than the best quality of life for our residents. PIRG's narrow viewpoint will not meet that need.
Transportation has to be about more than just moving people — it is about moving our economy and supporting good jobs in the state for us and future Arizonans. You can't do that with buses alone.
John S. Halikowski is director of the Arizona Department of Transportation. For more information on the Interstate 11 study, visit i11study.com.