Measures that could eventually lead to connecting Interstate 10 near Vail to Interstate 19 on the northern edge of Sahuarita were approved unanimously Tuesday by the Pima County Board of Supervisors.

The proposed high-speed freeway, called the Sonoran Corridor, would exit I-19 just north of Desert Diamond Casino on land owned by the Tohono O'odham Nation and head east across Nogales Highway before heading north about eight miles toward Raytheon Missile Systems and Tucson International Airport.

But before arriving at those sites, the proposed corridor would intersect with what is now Old Vail Connection Road, veering east for nearly seven miles before running into I-10 at Rita Road.

While the county continues to push hard to advance its proposed Aerospace Parkway near Raytheon and TIA, its actions advancing the Sonoran Corridor, while needed, are hardly monumental. The first measure amended the county's Major Streets and Routes Plan simply to recognize the corridor alignment. The second initiated a proceeding to establish the corridor as a county highway, a step to eventually seek its inclusion in the state highway system.

County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry recommended the supervisors OK both measures.

“The Sonoran Corridor alignments were accelerated as the need to relocate Hughes Access Road and move expansion constraints for Raytheon Missile Systems became obvious and urgent,” according to a Sept. 16 memorandum Huckelberry to the supervisors. He said the most direct connection between I-19 and I-10 would have been at the Papago Road Interchange, but that proved problematic “due to significant archeological impacts” on Tohono O'odham land.

“While the route (at Papago Road) provided the most direct surface transportation access to connect existing and emerging aerospace, technology and manufacturing employment centers in the metropolitan area, it did not provide advantages related to Mexico trade that an alignment further south” would bring, according to Huckelberry's memo.

Hence the shift in the corridor alignment to a spot on I-19 north of Pima Mine Road.

Construction of the Sonoran Corridor would come in three phases.

The first would relocate the existing Hughes Access Road as the Aerospace Parkway. It is a funded Regional Transportation Authority project budgeted at $12.7 million. County officials anticipate the Aerospace Parkway – which promotes development of a major aerospace/defense/high-tech business park and future expansion at Raytheon Missile Systems – will be bid and constructed in 2015.

The second phase, which would cost an estimated $31 million, would be a nearly seven-mile stretch connecting high-tech aerospace and manufacturing centers around Tucson International Airport and the UA Science and Technology Park, near I-10 and Rita Road.

The third phase would be the nine-mile, north-south leg that would connect I-19 near Sahuarita to the newly built Aerospace Corridor and the Sonoran Corridor to Rita Road and I-10.

However, according to the county memorandum, the I-19 connection to the Sonoran Corridor is not written in stone.

“A meeting was convened with 16 major stakeholders that had some interest in the route near Pima Mine Road and Old Nogales Highway,” according to the memo. “While there are a number of steps remaining in the process, these consultations have resulted in a conceptual alignment that all parties feel is appropriate to continue to pursue.”

David Pittman | 547-9728

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