REDINGTON – The sign on the dusty road running past Andy Smallhouse’s cattle ranch reads “No Pavement 50 Miles” and he would rather it stay that way, especially since the alternative could be a freeway.
The biggest road in the area is Interstate 10, about 40 miles away.
State planners are drawing lines on a map and some of those would route a proposed I-10 bypass right through the southern Arizona ranch.
“We don’t see any way possible for an interstate to come through the middle of us and not interrupt what we’re doing,” said Smallhouse, whose great-great-grandfather established the ranch in 1884. “We might possibly profit from it, but we’re not really interested in that aspect.”
The idea for a bypass is to create a route for cross-country truckers and long-distance motorists so that traffic can skirt Tucson, a metro area of 1 million. Farther north and west, another part of the bypass is contemplated to route I-10 traffic around even bigger and more congested Phoenix.
The proposals are an outgrowth of ongoing efforts to adjust to Arizona’s furious growth. Arizona and Phoenix consistently rank among the nation’s fastest-growing areas and traffic congestion has been a byproduct, even on the interstates.
The roughly 100-mile trip from Tucson to Phoenix can easily stretch to three hours because of bottlenecks that slow motorists to a crawl at both ends. That often gives road trips the feel of rush-hour commutes.
Trying to create an alternative set the stage for conflicts. On the Interstate 10 proposals, some of the possible bypass routes under study would cross miles of table-flat desert of no particular distinction. Others would put concrete in remote areas near national monuments, wilderness areas and other largely undeveloped places.
State transportation officials acknowledge the possible I-10 bypass routes raise environmental concerns and other objections. But they say no decisions have been made and the routes under study avoid designated wildernesses and other protected areas.
The state can’t ignore that its population and traffic are growing and that I-10 can’t handle the load, said S.I. Schorr, a Tucson real estate lawyer and State Transportation Board member, who first requested the I-10 bypass study.
“The growth is going to occur irrespective of whether we plan for these roads or not,” Schorr said. “It’s simply a question of planning for the growth.”
State officials estimate a 25-mile bypass for I-10 would cost $6 billion to $8 billion and no funding is lined up.