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TUCSON, Ariz. -- Representatives in southern Arizona meeting with transportation officials this month said they have been completely bypassed in the planning for a new interstate linking Nevada to Mexico.

Pima County officials met for three hours Friday with the Arizona Department of Transportation's board about what they say is a snub in all of the department's written materials about the interstate, the Arizona Daily Star reported.

Si Schorr, a Tucson attorney and a member of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, said it appears as though the state's plans for the proposed Interstate 11 are only focused on building sections between Las Vegas and Phoenix.

``If Interstate 11 is predicated on trade with Mexico, we don't understand why only one aspect of it has been singled out as priority,'' Schorr said.

ADOT director John Halikowski said the department is not leaving southern Arizona out. Other department officials said they regret the impression created by the literature.

``We lament using the term `priority,' " said Scott Omer, assistant director for the department's multimodal planning division. ``The whole state is priority.''

The agency's goal is to have the interstate run through the southern part of the state too, either by double-decking Interstate 10 or creating a new bypass route, Omer said.

Cherie Campbell, deputy director for the Pima Association of Governments, said the state transportation department has not invited her group to any planning meetings. Omer, however, disputed that statement.

Many southern Arizona business owners said Interstate 11 could be critical for companies who do ship goods by ground.

``The ability to ship (produce) to Canada without having to go through California makes our region more attractive,'' said Allison Moore, a spokeswoman for the Nogales-based fresh Produce Association of the Americas.

Putting Interstate 11 in Pima County would mean commercial truckers could avoid freeway gridlock around Tucson and Phoenix. John Moffatt, director of strategic planning for Pima County, said traffic from trucks going back and forth between Mexico and the U.S. is only going to grow. So it would be in the best interest for the state transportation department to study the interstate's potential beyond Phoenix.

``We need to be at the same level as the northern spur,'' Moffatt said. ``We need to be consistent.''

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Information from: Arizona Daily Star, http://www.azstarnet.com

Associated Press,

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