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Jul 3, 2013 7:14 PM by Nathan O'Neal

County wants in on new plans for Interstate 11

TUCSON - Pima County is pushing for southern Arizona to be included in future plans for a new interstate that would eventually link Las Vegas and Phoenix.

The talks for Interstate 11 have been around for a while; however, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry is asking the area's regional planning body to consider a 56-mile interstate highway link, which would bypass Tucson's metro area.

The county estimates that more than 175,000 vehicles travel the I-10 stretch near downtown Tucson every day. That traffic is projected to only get worse in the future -- that's one of the reasons Pima County is pushing for an alternative route.

"The interstate system is basically desinged for long trips, inter-city, inter-state... In our case it's become the backbone of our urban transportation system," Huckelberry told News 4 Tucson.

The proposed plan primarily uses state land and retired city and county property. However, about three percent of the 56-mile project would directly impact residential areas.

The bypass route would extend the link between Las Vegas and Phoenix past Casa Grande and south through Avra Valley, toward Sahuarita Road. The highway would eventually loop around to meet the I-19 and I-10.

Alan Levin, owner of the Port of Tucson, said the plan could have a huge economic impact, providing a corridor for large trucks to reach the railroads. Levin said it would allow the region's trade industry to easier access the global market.

"We're all about taking trucks off the highways and putting them on rail to get to Long Beach and Port of L.A.," Levin said.

That's welcome news to Tom Birkholz, who has driven Tucson's roads and highways for more than 30 years.

"Just today I was following a truck in the high-speed lane that was backing up traffic for miles, so if we could get the trucks out of Tucson that would be a great benefit to the city," Birkholz said.

This proposal is still a long way from becoming reality. The county has only just asked the Pima Association of Governments to consider studying this option. If it does happen, Huckelberry said it could be a few decades before the highway was completed.

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