Stop CANAMEX, Stop the Intermountain West Corridor and I-11! Stop the Sun Corridor! Stop the 202!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Interstate 11: NAFTA Trade Corridor

Arizona’s economic destiny has everything to do with international trade, specifically trade with Mexico, or at least that’s the myth fueling the planned construction of a road that would cut through the state.

The trade corridor, designated Interstate 11 (I-11), does not yet have a definite route, aside from the first portion called the Boulder City Bypass which is already under construction and scheduled for completion in 2018. ADOT planned several “public scoping meetings” for the last week of June to discuss their plans with the public. What we do know is that it is intended to officially span Arizona and Nevada, as part of a larger concept of a trade corridor connecting Mexico and Canada.

There are several problems with the I-11 and the trade corridor in general. Carving out this route across the land will undoubtedly cause massive damage to the earth, living beings, and sites that are invaluable to indigenous and other people. Big semi trucks and perhaps trains transporting products each way will bring increased traffic, pollution, and safety issues. The road will contribute to increased need for more oil and gas extraction, and will lead to more development and sprawl.

The route is an extension of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Mexico, the US, and Canada; which has varyingly afflicted each country involved, to which many workers can attest and as mass migration illustrates. The claim is that NAFTA’s corridors will advance economic development, which is usually code for “the rich get richer”, and just as NAFTA only bolstered corporate interests, so will its interstates. The corridors allow for more imports of products made in Mexico as well as from Asia, produced at very low wages. The trade routes additionally contribute to the already damaging extraction of resources such as oil, minerals, and water.

Governor Ducey claims that increasing trade with Mexico will improve the economy and well-being of both countries, but this is more likely just media spin to attain infrastructural improvements for business gains. Ducey and others have sought to re-brand Arizona to the Mexican business class by distancing themselves from SB1070. While there is no doubt that 1070 is a terrible discriminatory law, the casting of the bill as the villain serves a purpose to shift attention away from free trade and its impacts, particularly displacement/migration, but also the disappearances and murders.

The US is complicit in the violent acts against Mexican people, such as the disappearances of the students of Ayotzinapa, and what’s happening now in Oaxaca, among so many other examples. This is not to mention what’s going on in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua and the Mexican government’s involvement in trying to curb migration from these countries.

NAFTA requires the violence of border security, of displacement and loss of jobs, but also state repression and the violence of the drug trade and drug war; which are all intimately connected.

Increased movement of goods across the US/Mexico border means increased import of illicit drugs. More drugs come through the official ports of entry than by foot between the ports (Ducey’s Strikeforce focuses on the latter). Increased presence of meth and heroin in particular contributes to a major public health problem in the US that the government treats as a security issue rather than through the more successful approaches of prevention and treatment. The movement of more drugs, therefore, means more militarization of the border region (not to mention south of the border through the Merida Initiative and CARSI), detrimental to communities in the areas affected. Many US officials on both sides of the border, given authority and impunity, continue to be implicated in the drug trade as well.

Would those pushing the free-market policies in Mexico acknowledge their impact on the rise of the drug trade due to expansion of infrastructure and also recognize the role of their trade policies that benefit major corporations in contributing to the contrast between the profitability of drug-trafficking in relation to the poverty? On the contrary, the “drug war” is to some degree an attempt to manage, not stop the drug trade; but the purpose is mainly to further facilitate access to land, resources and cheap labor. A trade corridor to facilitate trade only perpetuates these problems.

Interstate 11, Intermountain West Corridor, and Canamex

Interstate 11 has been in the works for years. After much lobbying, the interstate was designated as such by congress through MAP-21 legislation in 2012, due to its role in completing the international trade corridor for freight traffic connecting Mexico and Canada. The portion between Phoenix and Las Vegas, Route 93, was considered inadequate. The rest of what was called the "Canamex Corridor" spanning western North America already exists. In the Interstate 11 Study website's own words: "... the Canamex corridor is composed of a myriad of existing Interstate corridors and state highways, and is not a continuous route due to a gap in the designation between I-10 and US 93. Implementation of the [I-11] Corridor can fill this gap..." However, as the years have gone by and different influences come into play, the emphasized international trade route has changed in some ways. The Interstate 11 in Nevada and Arizona is now part of a larger concept called the Intermountain West Corridor, which is a route somewhat different from Canamex but would also connect Mexico and Canada through Arizona.

Because an interstate could include access to some federal funding, some people and organizations in southern Arizona have been pushing to have the Interstate 11 officially run beyond Phoenix, down through Tucson and Nogales to the border with Mexico, even though Canamex already does. ADOT reported on December 4, 2015 that "The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act”, or FAST Act, formally designates Interstate 11 throughout Arizona. It states that the I-11 corridor will generally follow Interstate 19 from Nogales to Tucson, Interstate 10 from Tucson to Phoenix, and US 93 from Wickenburg to the Nevada state line. Nevadans have expanded I-11 in their state as well, joining Las Vegas to Reno, connecting to Interstate 80.

The Sonoran Corridor, which would run through Avra Valley and benefit defense and technology corporations like Raytheon, may act as a piece of the Interstate 11 by connecting Interstate 19 with Interstate 10 south of Tucson. In reference to the legislation introduced, McCain said, “The Sonoran Corridor project will have a significant impact on state, regional, and national commerce by connecting major trade routes and improving transportation along the Canamex Corridor and the future Interstate-11."

Carlos Slim and Doug Ducey, from
Due to the 2015 meetings between Governor Doug Ducey and Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, Mexico may in the future also officially recognize I-11 as extending to Mexico City. Although perhaps not officially, Canamex currently has its southernmost point at the Port of Guaymas where powerful mining companies such as Freeport McMoran (who was present at the meetings in Mexico City) and BHP Billiton (of Resolution Copper who plans to destroy Oak Flat/Apache Leap with their copper mine) do business. Canamex would also be an important corridor of TPP trade due to its Pacific seaport in Guaymas, Mexico, and its proximity to the west coast in general.

What resulted in the Ducey’s meetings in Mexico was less specific than extending I-11 to the city. It was a Memorandum of Understanding to “conduct a study on how to further optimize the Arizona-Mexico trade corridor, including road and rail infrastructure and industrial clusters." Mexico has already made improvements to Route 15 at the behest of Arizona officials.

Despite the high degree of interest in the construction of new roads for moving products, an overarching motivation mustn't be overlooked. As explained in More than Bricks and Mortar, the primary incentive is likely a growing effort on the part of financial institutions and those who see common interests to find more profit-making opportunities.
"... 'infrastructure' is less about financing development (which is at best a sideshow) than about developing finance..." "what is being constructed are the subsidies, fiscal incentives, capital markets, regulatory regimes and other support systems necessary to transform 'infrastructure' into an asset class that should yield above average profits.
Currently there is no source of funds in either state, so the project will likely be composed of public-private partnerships, similar to that of the South Mountain Freeway (which will also support a lot of the trade traffic in and out of Phoenix), a government subsidy to corporations, effectively. Public-private partnerships are just such a way to create opportunities to use “innovative financial mechanisms” (low-interest rate loans, tax-free bonds) to leverage a state’s assets. It may end up with tax increases, involve toll concessions, and/or bankrupt governments.

The Interstate in Arizona alone, including the studies, even in the areas where Interstate would would be redundant in relation to Canamex, will cost billions upon billions of dollars.

Who’s Involved?

The Arizona-Mexico Commission (AMC) is said to be the "god father" of the Canamex Corridor by AMC's Canamex expert, former US Representative, Jim Kolbe. There had been a Canamex Coalition and an Arizona Governor’s Task Force which seemed to have lost steam during the recession, but now the Transportation and Trade Corridor Alliance (TTCA), according to AMC’s website, “encompasses the former Canamex Task Force."

TTCA was instituted in early 2012 by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. According to a press release back then, "ADOT – in collaboration with the Arizona-Mexico Commission and the Arizona Commerce Authority – will bring together public and private sector partners to assess opportunities for Arizona to pursue investments in trade corridors such as the newly-designated Interstate 11, and to explore enhancements to border infrastructure. The Alliance will help identify how best to take advantage of the state’s current resources and guide future investment in a strategic way to increase the capacity of existing corridors – all with the ultimate goal of improving Arizona’s competitiveness in a global marketplace."

According to one I-11 Study document, the CAN-DO (Connecting Arizona and Nevada - Delivering Opportunities) Coalition, a nonprofit corporation, also now known as I-11 Coalition, "played a strong role in lobbying for the designation of this corridor as 'Interstate 11' in MAP‐21." A couple of the coalition members had been involved in Canamex. U.S. Senators John McCain, R-AZ and Jeff Flake, R-AZ carried the project forward into law.

One of the directors of the I-11 Coalition, multi-millionaire sports executive Jerry Colangelo, along with colleague Michael Ingram (on the board of directors of the AMC), who would both profit from one of the proposed I-11 alignments along their El Dorado Holdings, Inc. Douglas Ranch project, discussed I-11 with Carlos Slim back in April 2015. Colangelo and Ingram are both on the board of directors of the Arizona Commerce Authority. The AMC has coordinated various meetings with Mexican officials and businessmen and played a major role in the opening of trade offices in Arizona and Mexico to facilitate this relationship.

Jim Kolbe, AMC’s Canamex expert also co-chairs the TTCA. He is also described as having been "a leading advocate in Congress for NAFTA" when he incorrectly argued in 1993 that NAFTA would not cause job migration, and still argues that NAFTA is working. Perhaps more notably, Kolbe is a consultant with McLarty Associates on their Mexico Team and the Central America Team. McLarty Associates’ president, Thomas F. “Mack” McLarty III, “was a key figure in the creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).” McLarty and colleagues have multiple connections to the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) (see Highway to Hell?).

The SPP was interested in making Canamex a reality. Launched in 2005 as an extension of NAFTA, the partnership lasted until 2009 but clearly lives on through Kolbe and his colleagues. The SPP, which was secretive and not an official treaty, called for “maximization of North American economic competitiveness in the face of growing exports from India and China; expedited means of resource (oil, natural gas, water, forest products) extraction; secure borders against ‘organized crime, international terrorism, and illegal migration’; standardized regulatory regimes for health, food safety, and the environment; integrated energy supply through a comprehensive resource security pact (primarily about ensuring that the US receives guaranteed flows of the oil in light of ‘Middle East insecurity and hostile Latin American regimes’); and coordination amongst defense forces…” according to Left Turn. It is worth noting that SPP sought to undermine labor laws and promote temporary worker programs as part of their intensification of “neoliberalism through an increased reliance on labor flexibility as a means of increasing profits,” as Left Turn also notes. Kolbe, McLarty, and their colleagues’ role in the drug war is also important.

Lastly, the earliest mention of the Canamex Corridor known to this author is the 1993 Arizona Trade Corridor Study, on which John McNamara, then of BRW, Inc., worked. McNamara now works as as a Deputy Project Manager for AECOM, which is the primary consultant for the I-11 Study. Michael Kies, ADOT project director for the I-11 Study, has also worked for AECOM. He worked for AECOM on the Arizona Rail Framework Study and the State Rail Plan. He was an AECOM project consultant on an ADOT project to make I-10 5 lanes each way from Tangerine Road to I-8. The article on this project stated, "An improved I-10 can 'support the objectives of the CANAMEX trade corridor, which includes this important segment of I-10,' literature indicates. The CANAMEX corridor presumes greater traffic between Mexico and Canada through the U.S. I-10 is 'not only an important east-west freight route,' but decision-makers 'expect freight movements to increase north and south.'" AECOM also plays a major role in pushing for public-private partnerships. The AECOM Global Cities Institute also produced the 2010 Sun Corridor, Future Corridor report which sought to position the “Sun Corridor,” a region spanning urban areas of Arizona (see Megapolitan in a Mega-Drought? A Guide to the Sun Corridor) to “become a major player in continental and international trade” exploiting its “location along the NAFTA highway.”

You can find more on these topics at

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

I-11 Public Comment period this month

Sent out by ADOT:

I-11 public comment period begins; six meetings planned for June

Formal environmental process now underway for Nogales-to-Wickenburg corridor

With six public meetings scheduled in June and an opportunity for the public to contribute in other ways, Arizonans can help shape the next step in planning for the proposed Interstate 11 as the Arizona Department of Transportation moves ahead on a three-year environmental study for a corridor stretching from Nogales to Wickenburg.

Planned as much more than a highway, I-11 is envisioned as a multimodal corridor connecting Arizona with regional and international markets while opening up new opportunities for mobility, trade, job growth and economic competitiveness.
ADOT has opened a 45-day comment period allowing Arizonans to provide input on the I-11 study area, a process known as public scoping. It’s an opportunity to ask questions and share comments about topics such as potential locations for the I-11 corridor, environmental considerations, impact on wildlife habitats or cultural resources, and possible opportunities for other transportation modes, such as rail, that may be considered.

“The progress on the Interstate 11 study shows ADOT’s commitment to establish a key border-to-border corridor and a trade route with Mexico that will continue our state’s efforts to boost commerce, job growth and economic development,” ADOT Director John Halikowski said. “We have the support of partner agencies throughout the study corridor who realize the benefits that I-11 can bring in terms of competitiveness, regional and global connections, and business opportunities through this new freight and travel route.”

The recommended I-11 corridor would likely follow US 93 from the Hoover Dam bypass bridge south to Wickenburg. The 280-mile corridor that is the focus of the current environmental study begins in Wickenburg and runs west of the Phoenix metropolitan area and then south to the Tucson area and then Nogales.

Publishing a Notice of Intent in the Federal Register, as required under the National Environmental Policy Act, kicks off the formal environmental study process, as ADOT works to prepare a Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement to select an I-11 corridor alternative between Nogales and Wickenburg.

Six public meetings are scheduled in the study area: 

Wednesday, June 8

Dorothy Powell Senior Adult Center – Dining Room

405 E. Sixth St.

Casa Grande

Wednesday, June 15

Buckeye Community Center – Multipurpose Room

201 E. Centre Ave.


Tuesday, June 21

Nogales High School – Cafeteria

1905 N. Apache Blvd.


Wednesday, June 22

Arizona Riverpark Inn

777 W. Cushing St.


Thursday, June 23

Marana Middle School – Gymnasium

11285 W. Grier Rd.


Wednesday, June 29

Wickenburg Community Center

160 N. Valentine St.


All meetings run from 4 to 6:30 p.m., with presentations beginning at approximately 4:15 p.m. The same information will be presented at each meeting.

Those interested in commenting on the study but are unable to attend a public meeting are encouraged to visit the study website at and complete an online survey. All feedback, questions and comments will be considered part of the study, are entered into the project record and will help shape the proposed I-11 corridor.

In March, ADOT, in partnership with the Federal Highway Administration, launched the three-year study. Until now, a process called pre-scoping has included meetings with federal, state and local governments, resource agencies and planning organizations within the study corridor.

The first step in the study is developing an Alternatives Selection Report to assess a wide range of corridor alternatives and options, along with opportunities and constraints. A Draft Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement will evaluate in greater detail a smaller number of corridor alternatives, including segments that may advance as independent improvements or projects. There will be a no-build alterative as well.

Input from the public, communities and other stakeholders will contribute to these two reports, as well as a Final Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement that will list a selected corridor alternative.

In November 2014, the Arizona and Nevada departments of transportation completed a two-year feasibility study as the first step in the Interstate 11 process. In December 2015, Congress formally designated Interstate 11 from north to south in Arizona through the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act. While the designation doesn’t include funding, it does make the corridor eligible for federal funding in the future.

During the next three years, the public, communities and other stakeholders will have opportunities to comment through regular meetings, community events and other forums. Right now, comments can be sent to:

Interstate 11 Tier 1 EIS Study Team

c/o ADOT Communications

1655 W. Jackson St., Mail Drop 126F

Phoenix, AZ 85007

For more information about the I-11 study, visit