Mesa Mayor Scott Smith on Thursday urged a group of East Valley leaders to put aside parochial differences and embrace a regional approach to prepare for population growth and economic development along a “sun corridor” that could one day stretch from Prescott, through the Valley into southern Arizona.
Smith was among leaders presented details of a report prepared by Arizona’s State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy called, “Megapolitan: Arizona’s Sun Corridor.’’ The report offers an analysis of the region’s global economic potential and the challenges that will come with developing the corridor, such as needed infrastructure and environmental planning. Population along the corridor could nearly double, to 8 million, by 2030, the report suggests. The report was presented at ASU’s Polytechnic campus in Mesa by Grady Gammage Jr., a prominent Valley attorney and urban development specialist.
A key question that those in attendance were left to ponder was whether leaders were ready to take on the challenge of planning for the corridor’s growth.
Smith suggested the region needs to learn from its mistakes. Past parochialism, he said, caused the state to fall behind in such areas as transportation, while neighboring states such as Utah and Colorado jumped ahead.
The mayor suggested leaders take a cue from these states to prevent each city or county from worrying only about its own needs and instead embrace a united approach to development. Outsiders viewing the area’s potential, the Mesa mayor noted, do not care if it’s Mesa, Tempe or Glendale.
“We spend a lot of time in our parochial thing between East Valley, West Valley, Phoenix, Pinal county — nobody outside Arizona (cares),” he said.
For instance, Smith suggested there needs to be another transportation corridor between the state’s major cities, like Phoenix and Tucson, beyond just Interstate 10.
He observed how his father, a former superintendent of Mesa Public Schools, observed traffic patterns on a new campus aerially to see what route pedestrians took. The sidewalk paths were built based on these.
“Rather than force growth, we need to allow natural growth,” Smith said.
Higher gas prices and lack of multi-modal transportation makes it all the more imperative to create new linkages between cities as part of future development, he said.
Dennis Smith, executive director of the Maricopa Association of Governments, suggested the lack of a broad economic strategy, not regional infrastructural planning or lack of data, is the real problem facing leaders.
A lot of cooperative planning is happening already, data being collected and traffic impact models between counties are being run.
“We need to look at the Regional Transportation Plan and at Prop. 400, which is facing rising costs and decreasing income,” he said, citing the proposition that imposed a transportation sales tax to fund new roads. “There needs to be an economic strategy to support the infrastructure needs.”
He cited some specifics, such as making the abandoned Yuma railroad line available and taking into account Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport’s role in the region.
“I think that’s the bigger overarching strategy,” he said, adding that once various business communities create an economic strategy “then MAG can come in and fill the holes.”
Mayor Smith responded to Dennis Smith’s comments.
“This is where we get into problems,” Scott Smith said. “We tend to try to protect our turf rather than to advance the greater cause because we think it’s a win-lose.”
Mayor Smith said planners often do a good job, but city, county or state leaders often are the obstacle.
“We have a lot of good planning going on at staff levels at the state level — it’s at the leadership levels when you tie these plans with the economics, that’s when we start fighting over dollars and priorities,” he said.
Dennis Smith later reiterated that it’s “essential we think of economic interest of this region.” “Mayor Smith’s comment is how are we addressing planning beyond the border between Maricopa and Pinal and Yavapai — that’s the megapolitan issue that hasn’t been addressed.”
The report envisions the corridor stretching almost 300 miles from Chino Valley near Prescott all the way to Sierra Vista south of Tucson.