Arconauts Mull Pros and Cons of I-17 & AZ 69 Intersection Construction

The Arizona Department of Transportation decided to  “honor” of Arcosanti and Paolo Soleri by impressing his art on a large public works project design to improve traffic flow at intersection where Arizona state highway 69 forks out from Interstate 17 in Cordes Junction. Arcosanti is a tourist draw close to the interchange and so putting Soleri’s art on the concrete is really a no brainer. Not everyone will realize that the art is Soleri but it helps to reinforce and canonize Arcosanti as a tourist must see in Arizona.

One possible negative about Arcosanti being associated with the 54 million dollar project while a testament to Soleri is also a expression of the expensive and sometimes excessive nature of public works projects. While obviously something had to be done to improve the traffic flow it is not clear that safety and traffic flow could have been improved for considerably less money.

Deeper than that is the irony of Soleri who is anti-car being memorialized by having his designs being impressed upon the columns of the new freeway interchange. Students of sprawl have identified strategies that policy makers have employed over the years to encourage greater utilization of freeways and roads so that road workers and designers will continue to be occupied building and expanding them. This includes a core strategy that is based and focused on moving people to amenities rather than locating the amenities close to people. One aspect of this is tourism as more people traveling the state and visiting locations by car throughout the state means more traffic, more business and ultimately more tax dollars. It also means that part of the justification for more construction comes from the need to build more highways because more tourists are coming to the state and visiting places like Arcosanti.

Compromises are part of life and the fact that the Paolo Soleri’s designs figured prominently in the bridge columns seem to make it less repulsive.

We can also see progress in the paving of a roadway called Arcosanti Road that will cross the Interstate and provide access to it. Possibly most significantly is that approximately 1/2 mile of previously unpaved road to Arocsanti will now be paved. Cosanti and the Arcosanti Community get about 20 percent of the length of the 2.5 mile road leading to Arcosanti paved and that’s not chump change considering that we had estimates for paving the road ranging from 500,000 to 1,000,000 dollars. These benefits make it hard to see this project as a negative to the foundation.

Some Arconauts have long believed that by paving the road with asphalt we would solve a major problem with the road bumpiness being a turn off for many people coming to Arcosanti. True enough but I think seeing the road as a panacea to confronting Arcosanti’s stagnation and slow pace of growth compared to the ambitious vision that Soleri first set forth with the founding of Arcosanti over 40 years ago is simplistic. We can expect that there will be an improvement with the completion of the project in the amount of visitor traffic that Arcosanti receives because the project will be more visible from the highway.

However, there is also some concern that once the road is completed there will be rapid development of the area which might lead to the loss of control of Arcosanti State Trust Land (in addition to the 860 acres of the land that the Cosanti Foundation owns there is also about 3000 acres of land Cosanti leases from the Arizona government). Land speculators have begun buying up land and there are now signs along the road going to Arcosanti. What’s clear is that the Cordes Junction I-17 intersection where 69 forks from I-17 is busy and that development of commercial Interstate related businesses has been stifled by the lack of prime road access. It seems that part of the plan for the intersection sought to address this buy building an extension of Stagecoach Trail from the existing Shell and Chevron gas stations to what is to be Arcosanti Road going over I-17. This is where the land speculator signs have popped up.

Highway builders and planners don’t just build highways they also have another less talked about role they work with developers and economic development planners to design highways to stimulate economic growth. With Sprawl and Car Culture we see that policy makers have embraced the car and the highway and the single family home as key tools in enabling and facilitate economic growth. This is obvious when you look at how well planned freeway and highway construction has led to rapid rises in land prices and the development of unimproved lands as we see happening on a small scale in the areas around the I-17 & AZ 69 intersection.

The Cosanti Foundation may have faced a tough choice in terms of whether or not to support this development. We know that something needed to be done but we also know that there may have been a desire to stimulate development through the construction and at the end of the day it is these subtle mechanisms that help keep suburbia humming and what public officials keep turning to provide more growth and jobs often building out highways to an extent that is not so much about addressing capacity bottlenecks but also in the hope that it stimulate more growth in car traffic that will lead to more growth. In this case Arcosanti may have been one tool in their toolbox that they used to promote more growth. Good for Arcosanti and good for Arizona but also good for sprawl?

In my view whether or not the Cosanti Foundation should have endorsed this project by working with ADOT is debatable. It should have been debated within the Arcosanti community, however it never was. We were just told that it was good and that we should embrace it. In the future, I can only hope that we might consider these things more carefully among the stakeholders of the project with the idea that when we criticize the mainstream society for promoting sprawl we don’t see how we too are complicit as well. This is one reason why we need to move away from the finger pointing that is so endemic in Soleri’s ideology at School of Thought. Hopefully the new president of Cosanti grasps the importance of taking a more nuanced view towards sprawl and the car because Cosanti Foundation and Arcosanti have been able to really show how they are a practical alternative to the car culture that powers suburbia and what now passes for the American Dream.

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