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Paving the Way for CANAMEX

A rendering showing the various sustainable elements as the proposed I-11 passes through Tucson. Credit: Cronkite News

By Ryan Santistevan for Cronkite News

Imagine a road trip in 2030 on a super interstate highway that stretches from Arizona’s border with Mexico to the U.S.-Canada border in Montana. And it won’t be just a road on which you drive your car, but an economic investment to the communities through which is passes.

Ian Dowdy, director of the Sun Corridor program, said the institute wanted to put the time to research, develop, and team up with other groups to make the proposed transcontinental highway, CANAMEX, something that will not be outdated by the time it’s built.

In 2012 Congress approved a transportation omnibus bill, MAP-21, to provide direction on transportation funding. MAP-21 provided funding for the planning and study of possible corridor routes for I-11, according to the Sonoran Institute.

Sonoran Institute’s Role

The Institute’s mission is to connect communities to the natural resources that nourish and sustain them. Dowdy said the Sonoran Institute became involved with the CANAMEX project four years ago.

He said in most situations communities are given a false narrative that they have to choose between a good economy and a good environment.

Three Universities Get Involved

Students from Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas became involved and were divided into studios to design the I-11 corridor of the overall CANAMEX highway.

Linda Samuels was one of the leaders of the project. She said the standing challenge was to encourage students to leverage their knowledge into something that could both be socially and environmentally productive.

They chose to work together and plan a three-school, three-city collaboration. The University of Arizona studio, run by Samuels in conjunction with Arlie Adkins (urban planning) and Mark Frederickson (landscape architecture), collaborated with planning, architecture, and landscape architecture students throughout the semester and over the summer.

The studio was based on reimagining I-11 as next generation infrastructure. The project extended for an entire year culminating in multiple presentations to project stakeholders and relevant professionals.

Both the Arizona Departments of Transportation  and the Sonoran Institute were partners from the beginning. UA’s Renewable Energy Network and Walton Sustainable Solutions Initiative both funded its efforts in the end.

The work that Samuels and other groups have done has pushed ADOT to broaden its impact assessment to include a wider range of social and environmental issues.

Jason Boyer, a former lecturer at ASU, structured the studio in Tempe. ASU offered the studio to about 15 fourth-year architecture students.

ASU students were divided into five teams and responsible for designing portions of the highway. Boyer said they drove and studied these locations in depth for further design. Areas included the zone through Casa Grande, Metro Phoenix, and the area between the Nevada border and Phoenix.

Looking Down the Road

The sheer scale was the hardest part of the project. He also said that UA had an advantage of having a mixed class of architecture planning, landscape architecture and had a cross-pollination of background. In turn, it was difficult for the ASU students to understand how to break down the scale of the space that they were focused on.

He said Arizona needs to make sure it’s a part of the process.

Read more at Cronkite News.

NOTE: Paid subscribers receive additional project details in our twice-weekly PDF publication, including project stakeholder information and valuable project bidding leads. Find out more about AZBEX subscriptions or contact Rebekah Morris at or (480) 709-4190

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