Tucson conservationists, advocates square off on proposed I-11 plan

By Amber Victoria Singer | Cronkite News

Before Interstate 10 was built, the Tohono O’odham Nation was relatively removed from the rest of southern Arizona.

But in the 1960s, construction on the cross-country highway skirted the edge of the reservation. According to one of the tribe’s elected leaders, it didn’t just bring noise and air pollution, it encouraged development around the once-quiet community.

Austin Nuñez has been chairman for the Tohono O’odham Nation’s San Xavier District since 1987, or as he says, “a few years.”

Nuñez said when he was a child, downtown Tucson seemed far off in the distance, but that’s no longer the case.

“I mean, it’s right there, we’re just adjacent to the city of Tucson boundaries,” said Nuñez, whose district includes the historic San Xavier del Bac Mission.

As neighborhoods around the reservation expanded, there were more and more trespassers. One I-10 exit within the reservation led to nowhere.

“People would get off there and trespass on the desert and they’d sometimes take cactus or wood and we’d have to let them know that that was not allowed,” Nuñez said.

Eventually, Tohono O’odham leaders worked with the Arizona Department of Transportation to close the exit so travelers would be unable to access the reservation from the interstate.


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February 2023