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The cities of Phoenix, Casa Grande, and Tucson make up what’s known as the ‘growing southwest megaregion’ in Arizona. Cities within a megaregion are tied together by strong links and can influence one another, even if they’re hundreds of miles apart.

For this megaregion in Arizona, Interstate 10 serves as a conduit between the cities, and is heavily trafficked by freight vehicles. Carrying everything from avocados to medical supplies, the freight traffic is both necessary and taxing on I-10.

From wear and tear of the road itself to placement of rest stops and fuel stations, all of this has begun to affect driver safety. Thanks to students at Arizona State University, University of Arizona, and Northern Arizona University, a new study is being done to plan for the future of freight traffic on the I-10 with a focus on efficiency, safety, and sustainability.

“Hopefully, in the long run, this research will help shorten commutes, save lives, create more breathable air and find a way to pay for all of it,” Michael Kuby, a professor in ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, said.

This study will focus on topics such as reaping more benefits from pass-through traffic, emerging technology called connected and automated vehicles (CAVs), and identifying threats posed to transportation infrastructure by natural and man-made hazards, to name a few.

Students at the three major in-state universities aren’t the only ones taking a look at the I-10 and devising strategies to improve it. The Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG), the Federal Highway Administration (FHA), and the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) launched their own study back in 2014.

Their study focuses on the 31-mile freeway corridor beginning at the I-17/Loop 101 North Stack interchange in the north Valley and travels south and east to the Interchange I-10/Loop 202 Pecos Stack. This area has been dubbed the “Spine” because it is the transportation backbone of Maricopa County. In fact, more than 40 percent of all freeway traffic in the area travels over the Spine.

Drivers in that area have been pressing for solutions due to a high volume of accidents, closures, and gridlocks. According to Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, “the goal is to make our most heavily traveled freeway safer and more efficient for commuters, residents, and pedestrians.”

With MAG, ADOT, and FHA completing their study, they now have recommendations including upgrading 24 of 31 traffic interchanges to widen roads and improve cross-freeway traffic, provide better technology to help communicate travel information to drivers, and improving availability and reliability for transit and carpooling, among other things.

Arizona locals are urged to give their feedback on these proposed changes, and have until February 17th to do so. Simply click here for a chance to give your feedback and have it included in the study record.

Beyond the major improvements happening on the I-10, the local universities are excited about the opportunity to be working alongside one another.

“This is the first time we have a project between all of us, and you can see relationships and partnerships develop as we work through this. It’s going to be very exciting and very fruitful as we move into the future,” Edward Smaglik, associate professor in the Department of Civil Engineering, Construction Management and Environmental Engineering at NAU said.

So whether you’re a Sun Devil, Wildcat, or Lumberjack fan, this I-10 project is something we can all be rooting for.