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Asphalt Jungle

Expect delays! The Arizona Department of Transportation symbolically broke ground on the $200 million widening of Interstate 10 through downtown, which is being billed as the largest road project in Southern Arizona's history. Yabba dabba do!

Workers will be spending the next six months preparing the frontage roads to handle all the traffic that will be using the streets once the state closes all exits between 29th Street and Prince Road. That particular traffic nightmare will continue for an estimated 2 1/2 years, but it could have been worse: If we hadn't agreed to close all the exits, the project would have taken a decade.


Bio Briefs

The Center for Biological Diversity filed suit against the Bush administration, saying that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is undermining the recovery effort for the Mexican gray wolf.

"The endangered gray wolf is a resilient, prolific, intelligent species," said Michael Robinson, the center's carnivore conservation coordinator, in a statement. "If protected from shooting and given room to roam, it will recover quickly."

Elsewhere on the envirolegal beat: The Forest Guardians and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed suit against the Fish and Wildlife Service, saying that political considerations trumped science in a decision to not protect the Gunnison's prairie dog earlier this year.

Daniel Patterson, the southwest director for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said "biologists got rolled" when it came time to decide whether the prairie dog deserved protection. Patterson cited e-mails from Julie MacDonald, a political appointee who ordered that an internal decision to protect the little critter be reversed.

"It's part of the ongoing war on science by the Bush administration," Patterson said.

In other environmental news: The Center for Biological Diversity is offering free ringtones for the holidays. According to a press release that landed in our mailbox: "Now you can personalize your ringtones with the mesmerizing, heartfelt and--dare we say?--operatic calls of the blue-throated macaw, beluga whale, boreal owl, mountain yellow-legged frog, Yosemite toad or any of 40 other endangered wildlife species."

As Peter Galvin, conservation director for the Center for Biological Diversity, points out: "The animal calls are fascinating; they personalize your phone, and they sound cool when it rings."

To get your ringtones--along with fact sheets about the endangered species--visit rareearthtones.com.


Tank Girl

Congresswoman-elect Gabrielle Giffords announced she'd be serving on the House Armed Services Committee when the Democrats take control of the U.S. House of Representatives in January.

"Serving on this committee allows me to implement the commitments that I made to the people of Southern Arizona: to provide congressional oversight to the Pentagon and the administration's military policies, to rebuild American military readiness, to refocus our attention to the war in Afghanistan, and to concentrate on the prevention of nuclear proliferation," Giffords press-released.

Speaking of armed services: U.S. Sen. John McCain last week called for the deployment of an additional 15,000 to 30,000 troops in Iraq. The Associated Press reported that McCain told reporters: "I believe there is still a compelling reason to have an increase in troops here in Baghdad and in Anbar province in order to bring the sectarian violence under control."


Matter of Degrees

University of Arizona President Robert Shelton awarded degrees of one kind or another to roughly 3,800 students in the winter commencement, which included an energetic address from UA alumna and fitness guru Denise Austin, who tried to get uncooperative students to do some jumping jacks. Austin ended up the target of several flying tortillas, despite the efforts of UA security guards to prevent students from bringing them into the ceremony.

Among the graduates: former TW intern and occasional contributor Jacki Kuder, who is both an ace reporter and a skilled cook. Jacki's next stop is an internship with the Arizona Supreme Court, which means she won't be able to serve as The Range's personal chef quite as often. Congratulations and best o' luck up north, Jacki!

In other UA news: The men's basketball team manhandled the Houston Cougars, 87-62, at McKale Center on Sunday night. The Cats, who are now 8-1, next play in the 22nd annual Chase Fiesta Bowl Classic this week.

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