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To save lives, let’s fast-track federal grant to improve I-10




As Governor of the Gila River Indian Community, on behalf of my Community and all those who travel on I-10, I find myself concerned on a daily basis with the rising loss of life on Interstate 10, which knifes through the heart of the reservation to connect the Valley and Tucson.

Last Thursday, Jan. 12, a chain of collisions believed to have been caused by a distracted semi-truck driver left five people dead along I-10. According to the Community’s first responders, the fire was so intense, it took four hours to get the blaze under control. Those five deaths follow close on the heels of the tragedy caused during a Nov. 23 rollover crash near Casa Grande that decimated a family of seven.

The Community holds in our hearts each of these individuals and their loved ones, just as we want to express our deep gratitude for our firefighters, paramedics and police officers who frequently risk their own lives in response to these awful incidents. We will require more than thoughts and prayers, however, if we are serious about reducing the risks faced by the tens of thousands of drivers who travel this stretch of Interstate 10 every day.

We must have immediate action from Washington, D.C. We need the U.S. Department of Transportation to approve the Mega grant application submitted by the State of Arizona, the Community and the Maricopa Association of Governments. Approval of this grant application will provide real substance to President Joe Biden’s commitment to not leave Indian Country behind in the distribution of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds, ending decades of being overlooked and forgotten.

Gila River Indian Community, I-10, commute, Casa Grande, Tucson, Valley, safety, roadwork

Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis, Gila River Indian Community

The $360 million Mega grant would fund a fast-track expansion of the last remaining two-lane segment of I-10 that runs through the Community. As a frequent traveler of this stretch of freeway, along with residents of the south Valley, Pinal County and central Arizona, I can attest to the traffic jams created by this daily bottleneck, the environmental pollution created by vehicles sitting in the equivalent of a miles-long parking lot, and the lost man-hours and frustration the I-10 freeway creates every day.

Frankly, the cost of the grant pales in comparison to the economic benefits to be realized by finally expanding and improving this vital stretch of national roadway. As part of the National Highway Freight Network, this stretch of freeway hosts more than 110,000 vehicles a day, including vital commercial and freight traffic headed to and from Mexico and to the rest of the United States. Interstate-10 is literally the backbone of the Arizona and southwestern U.S. highway system, connecting Interstates 8, 17 and 19, and moving everything from food to fuel around the state and the nation.

In addition to the life-saving and economic benefits of I-10, the current disruptions have real-life consequences on our members and all those who travel the unimproved portion of the I-10.  Last week, students and teachers were unable to get to school to learn, and countless workers couldn’t get to their jobs, and emergency services were stalled or delayed for residents who needed assistance. The impacts are real, and the solution is available.

Together, the state and the Maricopa Association of Governments already have committed more than $630 million to fund this nearly $1 billion project. The Mega grant represents the essential missing piece. In a time when both political parties often disagree strenuously, we have seen a broad bipartisan group of supporters rally around the need to fix I-10.

Widening and improving the I-10 will save lives, reduce smog, save travelers’ time, improve freight transit, and help the Arizona economy remain robust. I can’t imagine who would possibly be opposed. Let’s get the Mega grant funded, and let’s get this much-needed, much-delayed project completed.

Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis represents the Gila River Indian Community.


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