An alternative to the crowded and dangerous trip on Interstate 10 to Tucson is on the horizon for East Valley drivers.
The Arizona Department of Transportation has identified a proposed route for what it calls the North-South Corridor, a freeway that would run 55 miles from the East Valley through Pinal County.
The agency also released a draft environmental impact statement that, after public comment, is expected to be finalized next year.
The freeway’s northern terminus would be in Apache Junction, where the freeway portion of the U.S. 60 currently ends.
A few miles south of there, it would intersect in Queen Creek with a future leg of State Route 24, the first leg of which already exists between Loop 202 and Ellsworth Road in Mesa.
The new freeway then runs almost directly south, passing between Coolidge and Florence. It would merge with Interstate 10 near Picacho Peak.
ADOT said the route was chosen because it would have fewer adverse effects on the built and natural environments than other alternatives. It would be operational by 2040.
The route runs directly through 275 square miles of state-owned land called Superstition Vistas in Pinal County. Planners believe that in the coming decades the Vistas will be developed as the state sells the property, and are seeking ways to ensure its sustainability.
Beyond that, there are projections that by 2050 the entire corridor that includes Phoenix and Tucson will develop into a “megapolitan” area with more than eight million people. Pinal County itself is expected to nearly double in population by 2040, with a 178 percent increase in jobs.
Other than I-10, Pinal County is currently served only by rural roads, most of the two-lane. State Route 79 does provide a link to Tucson, passing directly through Florence, but it also is mostly a two-lane route.
The corridor for the proposed north-south freeway is currently 1,500 wide, about a third of a mile. The final route will be about 400 feet wide within that corridor.
ADOT expects other major road projects within the general study area, although timetables are uncertain:
Widen State Route 287, also known as the Florence-Coolidge Highway, to four lanes.
Widen Hunt Highway to six lanes from SR79 to the west of Coolidge.
Continue widening I-10 to six lanes.
Widen U.S. 60 to eight lanes west of Ironwood Drive and six lanes east of there.
Numerous governments and agencies have been involved in the freeway study so far. They include Mesa, Apache Junction, Queen Creek, Pinal County and the Gila River Indian Community. Several federal agencies also are participating.
While planners contemplate the new highway, they also are studying a possible passenger rail connection between the East Valley and Tucson.
In 2017 the Federal Railroad Administration identified a route that runs along existing tracks in Tempe, Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert, through Queen Creek and San Tan Valley and then south to a point where the tracks would parallel I-10 into Tucson.
At present, however, no funding exists for further development of the passenger line.
Your chance to comment
A copy of the draft environmental impact statement for the proposed freeway from the East Valley to Tucson is available at azdot.gov/northsouthstudy.
The Arizona Department of Transportation will hold public meetings to discuss the proposal:
Oct. 1, Florence High School, 1000 S. Main St., Florence.
Oct. 10, Eloy City Hall, 595 N. C Street, Eloy.
Oct. 15, Poston Butte High School, 32375 N. Gantzel Road, San Tan Valley.
Each meeting will be 5:30-7:30 p.m. Residents also can comment via the aforementioned website, by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, and by bilingual phone a 855-712-8530.
Mailed comments may be sent to: North-South Tier 1 EIS Study Team, c/o ADOT communications, 1655 W. Jackson St., Mail Drop 126F, Phoenix 85007.
Printed copies of the environmental study are available at the Apache Junction and Queen Creek public libraries.
The deadline for comment is Oct. 29.