Gila River Indian Community cheers $95M to widen Interstate 10

For the Gila River Indian Community, the stretch of Interstate 10 that passes through its tribal lands headed toward Tucson has been considered unreliable, unsafe and often described as the “fatal funnel” due to the high number of accidents and fatalities in the area.

Up to 126,000 vehicles utilize that stretch of the I-10 every day, according to the tribe, and the 26-mile stretch of highway is the only section that does not have three lanes.

That portion of the highway has been a consistent strain on the GRIC families, students, elders, and employees, which led to an aggressive advocacy push for funding to widen the highway to match the roadways off their tribal land.

The push resulted in a $95 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to support a project to widen the 26-mile stretch of I-10.

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“I am so proud of the community’s aggressive effort to ensure that this long-neglected stretch of the I-10 will be widened,” Gila River Indian Community Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis said in a press release

He added that it will improve and enhance the safety and reliability of the I-10 for Gila River Indian Community members and all the other travelers who pass through their community.

“Tens of thousands of people — and millions of dollars in commercial goods — travel along the I-10 every day, and anyone who’s driven it will tell you two lanes are just not enough,” U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton said in a press release. “The heavy congestion and daily bottlenecks aren’t just inefficient — they’re dangerous.”

The funding was awarded through the INFRA Grant Program, which Biden’s Infrastructure Law supports, and it will provide funding for the Arizona Department of Transportation to finish the expansion.

“ADOT is excited to receive this funding and to work on this critical project,” ADOT Director Jennifer Toth said in a written statement. “The federal grant dollars are critical for expanding the principal roadway between Phoenix and Tucson. The project will deliver the best infrastructure to improve drive times and enhance safety.”

The grant funding will be added to the $692 million in state funding allocated for the project, along with a $221 million contribution from the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG). The project’s total cost is estimated at just over $1 billion.

“The I-10 serves as a major connector for the entire state, and I am thrilled to announce that we have secured the funds necessary to ensure it remains a gateway for generations to come,” Hobbs said in a press release. “By securing this investment, we are not only improving our state’s infrastructure, we are propelling Arizona’s economy forward, ensuring a prosperous future for all.”

The Governor’s Office said that the project means there will be three lanes for the entire stretch of highway between Phoenix and Tucson. The funding also supports the replacement of I-10 bridges over the Gila River and six interchanges.

Lewis said the new interchange that will be put in at Seed Farm Road will provide a “vital transportation corridor” for the Gila River Indian Community because it will provide their members with access to GRIC health and government facilities.

“It will revolutionize travel for our community, improving access to government services and employment,” he said.

Lewis commended the unique partnership between tribal, state, federal and county governments for the project’s success in getting funding,  and said he is looking forward to the continued partnership as the improvements to the I-10 occur within their community. 

“Completion of this segment of the I-10 will be a game-changer for our entire state, and I couldn’t be prouder of the way our state came together to get it done,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly said the investment of the grant is one of the largest ever in transportation infrastructure to occur within a tribal community, and it will be a “game-changer for the Gila River Indian Community.” 

“Too many of us have spent hours stuck in traffic on I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson,” Kelly said. “And for decades, residents and tribal members have been impacted by major bottlenecks preventing them from fully accessing jobs, housing, schools, and health care.”

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