Plan for the Arizona of 100 years from now - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Plan for the Arizona of 100 years from now

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Mark J. Scarp is a contributing columnist for the Tribune. Reach him at mscarp1@cox.net.

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Posted: Sunday, October 16, 2011 6:30 am

When I was a boy, too many adults in Arizona were possessed by the idea that they were the last people to move here. Even an 11-year-old like me had a hard time believing that, as this Valley would be doing some fantastic growing during my lifetime.

Yet today, as relatively new as this state is (only 99) and although 90 percent of its growth occurred after 1945, we remain as we always have been: Significantly behind in public infrastructure, the roads and bridges and schools and public buildings and such, those never built and those needing serious repair or replacement.

Ceremonies aside, the best way to celebrate Arizona’s centennial should be for its public and private leaders to boldly commit to updating and creating infrastructure that will be vital to better lives for us and for the Arizonans of the next 100 years.

Unfortunately, we’ve been ignoring many of the signs that have been with us for decades.

As a sixth-grader in 1970, I brought to school a magazine article containing an artist’s conception of what the area between Phoenix and Tucson might look like from space by 2000.

The illustration showed a night scene hundreds of miles above the Sonoran Desert. The entire 100 or so miles between the two cities was speckled with lights, sprinkles and clusters and blobs of them, that looked like New York City — at least to me.

I learned a new word from that article: megalopolis. But as we all had 30 years to wait, and being a kid, I had a good excuse to put off thinking about getting ready for all those people, for a while, anyway.

Today I’m not quite sure what excuse the grownups of the time had other than ostrich imitation as public policy. But it’s plain that they didn’t do very much to plan for the coming migration.

Freeways that at the time were delayed nearly 20 years after they should have been built, because — I’m not making this up — people then believed that freeways attracted cars that wouldn’t otherwise be here.

Today it’s been more than four decades since I brought that clipping to school. We haven’t got a sea of lights between Phoenix and Tucson just yet, but astronauts flying overhead certainly can see lakes and ponds of them. That article may have had the date wrong, but it got right the fact that large numbers of people were going to move here.

This past Wednesday’s Tribune reported on state transportation officials planning for one very important aspect of a megalopolis in central Arizona: moving everyone around it. Freeways alone won’t cut it, they said, as by 2050 even a 10-lane Interstate 10 would be choked with a crawling convoy of vehicles taking more than five hours to make the trip that takes less than two today.

Rail, not light rail but commuter rail, has been brought up again as a solution for transportation and economic reasons. All the previous times commuter rail has been proposed in Arizona it was in the midst of a crisis  — the Salt River floods of the late 1970s and early 1980s — and dropped as soon as the weather cleared and the ground dried.

Fast trains present a long-term solution, or at least part of one, that just might be the engine to reignite our stalled economy. Building and rebuilding infrastructure could work in Arizona as well as nationally, where in many places roads and bridges are as badly needed as here, if not more.

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who teaches economics at the University of California, Berkeley, said on National Public Radio last week that instead of stimulating financial institutions with tax dollars or printing new money, the federal government should provide the means — by selling bonds — for investors to put their money into the country’s badly needed infrastructure.

These projects would put Americans back to work building and supplying it and help reanimate a sluggish construction industry.

Reich has something here.

Super Bowls have their momentary moneymaking abilities. But good, reliable infrastructure is a magnet for attracting new investment and relocating businesses over time.

Arizona’s leaders have shown themselves to be quite adept at creating tax cuts and reducing public spending. But those moves alone haven’t pushed the state’s economy forward sufficiently.

They and the feds should create a plan for investing in and rebuilding that infrastructure and for building new components for the future — and the present.

• Read Tribune contributing columnist Mark Scarp’s views here on Sundays, and log on to watch his video commentary at eastvalleytribune.com

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