A new interstate highway planned through Arizona will sweep through Hidden Valley, and residents are irate.
The Federal Highway Administration is seeking feedback on the proposed I-11 corridor. It has primarily been promoted as the first direct connection between Phoenix and Las Vegas, though it ultimately could link Mexico to Canada.
More than 130 people have joined the “Stop I-11 in Hidden Valley” Facebook group, and they have begun meeting to strategize opposition to what is being shopped as the preferred route. Thursday, a group of about 20 gathered in Linda Sullivan’s house, which is near of the freeway’s path.
The freeway corridor is 2,000 feet wide and would necessitate the demolition of occupied homes.
“Some people have built their dream homes out here,” Sullivan said.
“The big intention of this freeway is to connect Nogales all the way to Vegas,” said Maryeileen Flanagan, who has been watching the project for years. “There’s a huge amount of goods transported via truck. This really is about the trucking industry.”
Flanagan’s home is in the path of the “recommended” alternative, which follows sections of the “green” and “purple” routes. She built her own house 1996.
Nevada completed the first leg of its part of the interstate, from Boulder City to Lake Mead, last year. Such a highway has been discussed in one form another for 25 years but was not formally designated until 2015. Flanagan said some of the data and maps of Hidden Valley being used in the study are outdated, according to recent reports from the Arizona Department of Transportation.
As the planned freeway from Marana to Buckeye comes through the Maricopa area, it is divided into three alternatives. What is called the “orange” alternative follows Interstate 8 to Gila Bend and then cuts north to Buckeye and on to Wickenburg. That alternative, however, has mostly fallen out of discussion because of the distance.
Santina Johnson, who has ongoing battles with Pinal County, believes the “orange” is being ignored because Maricopa, Casa Grande and Pinal County are pushing it through Hidden Valley.
The shorter alternatives, “green” and “purple” go through the populated areas of Hidden Valley, following a path along Barnes Road east to west, passing south of the Nissan proving grounds until it reaches Amarillo Valley Road, where it starts to run northwest and passes through the Palo Verde Regional Park. It would cross State Route 238 at Mobile and continue on to Buckeye.
Johnson said residents of the City of Maricopa “are being fed the B.S. that the I-11 will take traffic off the 347.”
Janet Hedgpeth said no one in the county government would care if residents of Hidden Valley dropped off the face of the earth. Johnson described the area as having high numbers of senior, low-income, disabled and Hispanic residents.
Several members of the group wanted to plan confrontations with Mayor Christian Price and other elected officials in Maricopa and Pinal County, even introducing a recall of County Supervisor Anthony Smith, but others said it was smartest to go straight to the federal level and cut off the funding.
“We also need to make sure those are people who have the potential to have some impact in our behalf,” Hedgpeth said.
Flanagan has reached out to U.S. Congressman Tom O’Halleran and U.S. senators Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally. Sinema’s office responded immediately and said the senator or one of her representatives would attend a future meeting in Hidden Valley.
“We need to focus on our baby steps to get to our goal,” Sullivan said.
The public comment period ends July 8. A decision on the final route is expected in early 2020.
Flanagan said it comes down to money, inferring Pinal County wants the highway only as a driver of economic development. The county, she said, is the second largest in the state but has the least amount of available land for development and to make revenue, “because we have so much reservation land, state land, federal land.”
“So, they are desperate to do something to generate revenue,” she said. “They have to do something, so they can stay relevant.”
“It’s a good thing that people get up in arms, but the politicians don’t really give a damn what we think,” said Joe Abodeely. “What you have to do is something that affects them. For instance: ‘You going to be running for office next time? I’m going to do everything I can to make sure you don’t get elected.’”