In this column, I'm more than content to color within the lines when discussing transportation in the East Valley. But I recently came across something nowhere near us that should be talked about.
This Wednesday, at the Maricopa Association of Government's Transportation Policy Committee, one of the agenda items is the "Interstates 8 and 10-Hidden Valley Transportation Framework Study."
This is an early attempt at planning for the transportation needs of a projected population of 2.5 million people in an area measuring 3,200 square miles, roughly following the boundaries of the Gila River to the north, state Route 87 and Overfield Road in Pinal County to the east, the Tohono O'odham Indian Community and Barry Goldwater Range to the south, and 459th Avenue* in Maricopa County to the west. The largest municipalities within the study area are Buckeye, Goodyear, Gila Bend, Casa Grande and Maricopa.
What first struck me, upon reading the study's draft executive summary, was the planners' estimate of how many people they expect to eventually live there. Really, 2.5 million people? Where there were 90,000 just a few years ago? For a comparison, as of mid-2008, the U.S. Census Bureau said the current population of Maricopa County was a little less than 4 million.
Now, it's going to be a long while before this area fills up; MAG projects buildout to take place perhaps after 2050. Still, that's an amazing head count for a region that is now a whole lot of empty.
The second sight to leave me gobsmacked was MAG's recommendation for a transportation framework. In this plan, Interstates 8 and 10 see improvements, such as widening and more traffic interchanges. The same goes for state Route 85**. But those could be expected.
What I wasn't anticipating was the spiderweb of proposed freeways, parkways, scenic ways, transit corridors and commuter rail lines. (To see for yourself, check page 140 of the agenda: www.mag.maricopa.gov/pdf/cms.agendas/TPC_2009-07-15_AGD_55225.pdf.)
In between all that asphalt, I can envision countless subdivisions, a sea of stucco walls and red tile roofs.
Didn't we learn anything from $4 a gallon gas last summer? As long as driving somewhere costs so dang much, it makes no sense to keep building toward the horizon.
I'm not into social engineering, so this is the last place you're going to find paeans to the joys of density and urban living, but the Valley's suburban sprawl is going to kill us. We've got to start looking up and in rather than out.
MAG, please let the desert remain the desert and focus more on keeping the cities at a manageable size.
new transit book
With widespread changes to bus service coming July 27, Valley Metro soon will be releasing an updated Transit Book.
In addition to offering the schedules and maps for more than 80 bus routes, the Transit Book features information in English and Spanish about fares, fare sales locations and tips on how to ride the bus or light rail.
The new Transit Book is available online now (www.ValleyMetro.com) and at transit centers, libraries and city halls by July 20.
* 459th Avenue? Are you kidding? I appreciate the devotion to our orderly grid system, but once past Buckeye I think it's safely assumed that we're out of the Valley. Even dumber is that 459th intersects with Indian School Road, never mind that the road's namesake landmark is more than 60 miles away. Maricopa County Department of Transportation, for your own good, it's OK to let go.
** Route 85 is better known as "The road you take from I-10 to I-8 when you're going to San Diego, and when you reach Gila Bend get a load of that Space Age Lodge."