Stop CANAMEX, Stop the Sun Corridor!

Friday, March 13, 2015

AOYC: It’s time to turn up the heat! FHWA In Favor of Building Freeway!

from https://aoycblog.wordpress.com/2015/03/13/its-time-to-turn-up-the-heat-fhwa-in-favor-of-building-freeway/

March 12, 2015
On March 5th, 2015, the Federal Highways Administration (FHWA) released their Record of Decision (ROD) in favor of building the South Mountain Freeway. The ROD is a document that gives the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) the approval to begin acquiring right of ways and to begin construction of the 22-mile-long freeway that blasts through three ridges of Moadak Do’ag (South Mountain). Moadak Do’ag is sacred to all O’otham tribes and holds cultural significance to eighteen other tribes.

This project has been opposed by members of the Gila River Indian Community since the 1980s. There are numerous harmful impacts of freeway construction which include destroying the prehistoric villages of Villa Buena and Pueblo del Alamo, the destruction of threatened/endangered animal habitats, and the destruction of plants that are central to traditional O’otham culture. Environmental impact studies of the 202 freeway also state that the habitat for wild horses in Gila River would be irreversibly lost if the freeway is built, and that no alternative habitats for the wild horses exist. One of the Gila River Indian Community’s entertainment destinations is named after the wild horses that the freeway would destroy if it is built. The path of the approved design also would destroy many groundwater wells, with no replacement wells planned for by ADOT. It is for these reasons and many more that in 2012, the Sierra Club named the South Mountain freeway one of the worst transportation projects in the United States.

Read more (seriously, follow the link and read the rest)...

Friday, March 6, 2015

Interstate 11 might exacerbate cancer risks in Nevada

There's a major health concern surrounding the construction of the first part of Interstate 11. Scientists found asbestos at the site where the Boulder City Bypass would be built. It seems that some Nevada officials are trying to suppress the investigation of the extent of the problem. Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral fiber, is likely already causing health problems such as the rare cancer called mesothelioma in local residents, but construction of new roads would make it all the more worse as it gets stirred up in the air.

The I-11 is a big deal to the state of Nevada (and to Arizona). Construction was delayed on the Boulder City Bypass, which is considered part of the I-11, for several months but has been approved by NDOT. Blasting will begin in May or June. It does not seem implausible that state officials would try keep this quiet, even at the risk of further endangering residents.

The Las Vegas Review Journal said of the Nevada Governor, "[Brian] Sandoval called the bypass one of the most important infrastructure projects for Southern Nevada and a key link in what could become a new Interstate 11 linking Las Vegas and Phoenix."

Michael Kies, of the Arizona Department of Transportation was quoted by the Mojave Valley Daily News, pointing out the importance of the corridor.
If the economy of Mexico does grow ... we’ll have a lot more trade coming into our state... And so, this interaction between Arizona, Nevada and Mexico, creating components in our state, selling them to Mexico for assembly, and moving that product to market, becomes the justification for a new trade corridor between Nevada, Arizona, and Mexico.
The study, of which Kies is part, includes a corridor running south to the border in addition to the federally recognized Interstate between Phoenix and Las Vegas replacing Route 93 with one more fit for freight traffic. It is part of the CANAMEX Corridor or what is now called, with perhaps a somewhat different route, the Intermountain West Corridor, running up through Canada as well.

The news that new roads could cause health problems is being treated as an inconvenience. State officials in Nevada doing more than just denying there's a problem. As the New York Times describes,
Upon learning of the report, the Nevada Department of Health forced the epidemiologist, Francine Baumann of the University of Hawaii, to withdraw a presentation of the findings at a scientific conference and revoked her access to the state cancer registry. Dr. Metcalf and Dr. Buck offered to meet with state officials but say they were rebuffed.
In the years since, “no one from the health department has ever contacted us to ask for any information about the minerals,” Dr. Metcalf said.
In an interview with KNPR news and elsewhere, state officials reference the cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestos rates in the state of Nevada in general to be no higher than other states. Yet they seem to ignore the specific study area of Southern Nevada and the Boulder City region in particular. The study results also seemed to indicate, based on age and sex, that the rates of mesothelioma pointed to an environmental cause rather than residents' past occupational exposure to asbestos.

KNPR reported, "Buck said when asbestos gets into the lungs it causes a whole host of diseases.
'All it takes is some wind,' Buck said. 'Any kind of disturbances to those fragile desert surfaces will create dust and the fibers become airborne.'”

If Nevada took this asbestos concern seriously, it may be a big blow to the trade corridor. This would not be the first health risk brought by a massive transportation project, of course and would not be the only health risk brought by the I-11. The corridor is likely to be built in sections, and each one will have to involve a NEPA study. The asbestos issue seems to have come out after the NEPA study for the Boulder City Bypass, but my impact other sections of the Interstate.

Further reading:
http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/asbestos-delays-work-boulder-city-bypass
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/10/science/a-controversy-in-the-wind.html
http://www.jhunewsletter.com/2015/02/19/toxic-asbestos-found-to-affect-nevada-residents-65913/
http://knprnews.org/post/health-concerns-and-highway-expansion-converge-boulder-city

Thursday, February 5, 2015

South Mountain Freeway Justified by Controversial Traffic Projections?

A consultant listed on the Environmental Impact Statement for the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway, Wilbur Smith Associates (now CDM Smith), is now known for their controversial socioeconomic and traffic projections across the country, which have in some cases led to toll road bankruptcies. These types of forecasts, and in particular their use to justify the Loop 202 extension, are questionable, as you'll see. The inaccuracy of traffic projections in general is a problem across the world, but Wilbur Smith's relationship to this road, including the fact that they did traffic projections for a company that wanted to make it a toll road, needs to be examined.

To be clear, while others may call for more transparency, the position of this blog is that, for a whole range of reasons, the South Mountain Freeway should not be built whether or not one can conclude that justification for the road is based on intentionally inflated projections. Even if overestimation is unintentional, the details of the Wilbur Smith issues are compelling enough to examine.

While a lot of the problems with traffic projections revolve around toll roads, these concerns are not irrelevant despite the fact that the Loop 202 is not currently being proposed as a concession project. A toll road has been considered a possibility for much of the life of the concept and its studies (1994, 1995, 2010). The relationship between Wilbur Smith (and HDR Engineering) to toll road projects for Loop 202, and the timing with which they got involved with ADOT on this project may still be relevant. Also worthy of examination is the position of ADOT's consultant, Nossaman, and their involvement in and promotion of public-private partnerships, including several of these toll roads involving Wilbur Smith.

Big Numbers

The Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway is being justified by the need to address future traffic congestion but we know at the very least that the inputs used are inaccurate. Various organizations/experts pointed out that traffic and socioeconomic projections in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway were based on old data (Census 2005), as well as aggressive estimates, rather than a range of data acknowledging a margin of error and limits to predicting the future. In response to comments, one of ADOT's repeated responses is that they incorporated the new data (Census 2010) for socioeconomic projections in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and they determined, without explanation, that the updated data validated the conclusions about purpose and need in the DEIS. This despite the fact that updated numbers showed that population figures were significantly lower than predicted. Socioeconomic data, such as population, employment, and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) are studied to come up with traffic forecasts.

Wilbur Smith Associates (CDM Smith), while not the only consultant for the socioeconomic portion of the DEIS and FEIS for the South Mountain Freeway, likely contributed to the Maricopa Association of Government's traffic projections cited in the DEIS and FEIS. It is not simply the use of inputs such as older census data that is the issue, but likely also the method by which traffic projections are arrived at.

Wilbur Smith's exact relationship to the traffic and socioeconomic forecasts presented in the DEIS (and FEIS) are not known to this author. It may not be irrelevant that HDR Engineering Inc., a primary consultant in the traffic portion of the DEIS and FEIS, had also been involved in an attempt at building Loop 202 as a toll road. Whatever the exact relationships and intentions are, traffic projection overestimates seem to be a systemic problem.

A report that investigated Wilbur Smith and the broader problem of traffic projections stated, "'Optimism bias,' the overestimating of toll road traffic and revenue in forecasts, is endemic in the industry. One industry expert estimated the mean forecast error at 25%-30% above actual traffic based on data from 104 toll roads worldwide. A major national study and industry and media research indicate sponsor political bias and profits are key drivers of 'optimism bias' in addition to a variety of methodological issues." No matter what the cause, there may not be any real reason to build the South Mountain Freeway. However, this would not be the first time Wilbur Smith Associates' figures have been found to misrepresent reality for new roads across the country, especially for toll roads.

The recent article, "The Great Traffic Projection Swindle" scrutinizes Wilbur Smith Associates' credibility. The article describes how a Virginia-based group "collected data from 26 toll road projects on which Wilbur Smith had produced the traffic projections. During the first five years that were forecast, traffic projections overshot actual traffic every single year, and by an average of 109 percent, according to the report."

The article continues,
Phineas Baxandall, a senior researcher with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group... says the engineering firms that provide the figures know how things work. “Companies seeking investment for privatized toll roads shop for the forecasting they want,” he said. “[There's] no incentive to tell bad news. And if the deal appears promising, then the forecasting company gets other opportunities to sell further analysis, legal advice, raising debt, selling equity, etc." 
Examples are given in this article of companies, including Wilbur Smith Associates, who were promised or granted future business by toll roads after their projections were sold to investors. One example was of a "traffic forecast for the $200 million Southern Connector in Greenville, South Carolina. In that case, Wilbur Smith was offered $12 million in contracts if the bonds to finance the project were sold. Toll Roads News reports the road only saw one-third to one-half of the traffic predicted by Wilbur Smith, and declared bankruptcy in 2010." (They did collect that $12 million.) The primary company involved in the consortium that built the Southern Connector tried to build South Mountain Freeway as a toll road, as discussed below.

Another project led to bankruptcy. "Wilbur Smith Associates had predicted that traffic volumes on the Indiana Toll Road would increase at a rate of 22 percent over the first seven years. Instead, traffic volumes shrank 11 percent in the first eight. The result was financial disaster for the concession company, owned jointly by Australian firm Macquarie and Spanish firm Ferrovial. By the time they filed for Chapter 11, debt on the road had ballooned to $5.8 billion."

In the case of this Indiana Toll Road, Streets Blog USA reported in another article titled, "How Macquarie Makes Money By Losing Money on Toll Roads" that Wilbur Smith "blamed the bankruptcy on the fallout from the recession." The banks were bailed out and the companies involved, including Ferrovial--one of the companies interested in the P3 for the Loop 202--continue to make money off other projects.

The article details the complicated financial methods used to continue to profit despite bankruptcies. Chuck Plunkett with the Denver Post reported that Ed Regan, a Wilbur Smith forecaster specifically blamed "a downturn in the local manufacturing economy," for the failure of the Southern Connector. Yet as Plunkett wrote, "federal Bureau of Labor Statistics records shows that manufacturing jobs were falling in Greenville long before Regan started on the projections for the Southern Connector." Regan claimed that the forecasts were actually conservative.

The problem revolves around these financial schemes and the ways the projects are sold to the investors. "The Great Traffic Projection Swindle" article states, "UK-based consultant Robert Bain literally wrote the book on traffic projections, warning in 2009 against forecasters who blamed faulty predictions on the economy. Commenting on the flurry of global toll highway bankruptcies that was just starting then, Bain said they had 'less to do with the present economic climate, and more to do with a market readiness to be seduced by hopelessly optimistic traffic and revenue projections.'" Nonetheless, a recession is going to impact projections, but this possibility should've been and should be taken into consideration. Aside from that, what does it mean that the projections for the South Mountain Freeway initially incorporated pre-recession numbers, yet even still the FEIS basically denied that the updated and very different numbers from 2010 altered the purpose and need justification for the project?

Controversy of the Past
There's an intriguing tale about a 1995 proposal for a toll road for the South Mountain Freeway and its connection to Wilbur Smith Associates published by the New Times in 1997. Arizona's proud public-private partnership history--highlighting a variety of controversial projects taken on by Richard Lloyd Carr and his company Interwest Management--is largely explored in the article. Included are some shady dealings such as one in Apache Junction for which Carr was sued by Allstate for fraudulent revenue forecasts. Interwest later planned to build what would've been Arizona's first toll road and none other than Wilbur Smith Associates was brought in to do the traffic projections.

The consortium responsible for building the toll road was Interwest Carolina Transportation Group, LLC, which with SCDOT formed Connector 2000 Association for a project in South Carolina, which recently filed for bankruptcy due to lack of revenue, as mentioned above. Had the traffic projections by Wilbur Smith Associates been accurate, the creation of the toll road and/or the bankruptcy could've been avoided.

The New Times article details issues with Wilbur Smith and another construction company that joined the consortium for the Southern Connector, involving two South Carolina highway engineers who, after receiving bribes from the construction company and were no longer employed by the state, became employees of Wilbur Smith Associates. This all points to a suspicious relationship among transportation officials and these private entities. The article also states that Wilbur Smith "signed on with Interwest to conduct traffic studies for the South Mountain Toll Road."

Adding to this complicated mess are some other details from an article by Forbes about the Southern Connector, "When the toll road came up for bid, two experienced highway construction management companies, Flour Daniel and Perini, Harbert-Yeargin, using Smith’s figures from a 1994 study to formulate their bids, lost out to Carr’s group, which has never built a toll road. How did Carr’s Interwest win the contract? By projecting traffic and toll revenues 50% higher than in the original study made by Smith, now on Carr’s project team." This would seem to imply that Wilbur Smith increased its own traffic and revenue projections to a significant degree for the Interwest bid, or they joined the team knowing the that the projections had been inflated that much.

Supposedly because the project would not be financially feasible, the Interwest consortium decided at some point against continuing their efforts to build the Loop 202 extension. More likely it was the controversy stirred up by the media, which also caused Carr to be removed as manager and CEO of the company he essentially started under a former employer, DLR Group, and led him to sue Forbes for critical media coverage. Interwest remained involved in the Southern Connector, however. Additionally, it is no secret that toll roads would be unpopular in Arizona. If the reason for dropping it was really because the lack of financial feasibility, this might not necessarily indicate that Wilbur Smith's traffic projections weren't financially favorable. At the time, public-private partnership laws were not as conducive to profit-making as they are now. The consortium had to be set up as a 63-20 non-profit, a situation which many were skeptical of, well, except for Nossaman, the firm that acts as a consultant for various partners involved in public-private partnerships, including Interwest (at least as of 2007).

"Purpose and Need" 

Wilbur Smith's relationship to the Interwest toll project for the South Mountain Freeway might have something to do with the justification of the project. Just a few years after Wilbur Smith's job was over with Interwest, the firm was working on the road project for ADOT. In or before January 2001, HDR Engineering was chosen by ADOT to be the consultant for the "South Mountain Highway Project," specifically for the EIS, with Wilbur Smith Associates as one of the subconsultants (recall that HDR had also been interested in building it as a toll road). There was a meeting of the South Mountain Community Advisory Team in early 2002 that included someone from Wilbur Smith Associates as a staff member (and two from HDR). It seems it was this same team and around this same time that determined that the EIS process was worth continuing. It is reasonable to suspect that Wilbur Smith's projections for the Interwest toll road would not be much different from those that, just a few years later, justified the beginning of the EIS process which is the main federal legal obstacle to such a project.


Howard Shanker, attorney for Protecting Arizona Resources and Children (PARC), points out that ADOT has been purchasing land in the right of way areas of the "preferred route" for the South Mountain Freeway for over a decade. It is likely that Wilbur Smith Associates had some influence in this decision back when it started. If Wilbur Smith was ever motivated to inflate traffic numbers to justify the road as a toll road, would they ever have corrected this after Interwest was out of the picture and especially since a toll road was a consideration almost this whole time since? And is ADOT equally invested in making the road project happen even if it's not truly justified?

Even as the Loop 202 is not being planned as a toll road, there might be similar motivations to increase the numbers. The Maricopa Association of Government's incorporation of the high traffic projections to justify the building of the road would also attract companies and their financiers to a promising revenue source whether it is a toll road or not, considering that a public-private partnership has been a likelihood for a while, and tolls are not the only possible revenue stream available. At this point, many companies understand how risky toll roads are, although there are still complicated financial methods that allow for companies to lose money on individual tollways yet still profit on a larger scale. Not much discourages the consultants from projecting too high because there is no accountability.

Due to the risk of bankruptcy for toll roads, other forms of public-private partnerships (P3s) have become more pervasive and there are newer ways to profit. The particular model of P3 in the works for the South Mountain Freeway is unusual, and seems to put a lot of risk on the state and therefore the tax-payer, especially considering that the road is to be paid for largely using funds that rely on certain socioeconomic projections made by Wilbur Smith Associates (as will be discussed in Part Two).

In or before 2010, ADOT hired Nossaman as P3 Legal Advisor with Frederic Kessler as the lead attorney. Nossaman and Wilbur Smith have both been involved in a number of controversial projects across the country. Yes, they all have a lot of clients, but it may be significant that so many have had major problems.

One problem-filled project involving Wilbur Smith Associates, Frederic Kessler of Nossaman, as well as HDR Engineering, is the Knik Arm Bridge in Alaska. Although still meant to be a toll road, the bridge is transitioning to a similar P3 arrangement as the P3 for the Loop 202, no longer to be financed by the private partner due to earlier traffic projections proving overly optimistic. In this case, Wilbur Smith did the traffic projections, later also hiring HDR and another consultant to "massage" a university research institute's forecasts to make them more favorable, according to a report. The resulting forecasts were significantly higher.

The report listed yet another iffy project involving Wilbur Smith and Nossaman.
In the worst case, it took less than three years for the new South Bay Expressway to declare bankruptcy from its late 2007 opening, a situation complicated by a law suit from the road’s developers seeking additional compensation. In the end, South Bay’s equity investors were wiped out, bondholders took a major loss, San Diego had to take over the previously public-private partnership, and the value of the endeavor sunk by nearly half.
Additionally, Kessler advised on the original Pocahontas Parkway plan (as a non-profit) and continued to advise them during the 2006 transition to a different arrangement with an Australian private partner. TOLLROADSnews estimated by 2004 that the "traffic shortfall is about a third" for Wilbur Smith's projections made in 1996. The project was larger and more expensive due to the forecasted need. "[The Pocahontas Parkway Association] officials began looking for a private investor to buy out the toll road as revenues continued to lag forecasts and a default was foreseen" says the report about Wilbur Smith.

It is possible that the width for the South Mountain Freeway--eight lanes (an earlier proposal was 10 lanes)--was chosen due to traffic projection modeling for tolling. As HDR explained to ADOT more recently, the less congested the road, the more likely someone is to be willing to pay a toll rather than take a different route. So since it is not to be a toll road, and the traffic projections might be too high, does it need to many lanes, if the road is to even be built in the first place?

To get more specific on the issues with the Loop 202 traffic projections, PARC summarizes the various problems on their website,
MAG’s modeling, which is relied upon in the DEIS to establish the purpose and need for the Freeway expansion, fails to accurately identify short-range growth and uses outdated (2005 census) data to estimate long-range growth. It reports its projections in a manner that indicates that they are certain to happen, which is not supported by the data and modeling techniques used. Estimates of vehicle miles travelled [sic], which are built into the models, are also based on faulty assumptions about future driving habits.
There is much valuable information and insight contained within the comments to the DEIS, but some will be highlighted here. Kevin Kane, of the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at ASU concluded,
"...the model relied on by the DEIS to justify purpose and need based on socioeconomic factors extends aggressive, pre-recession growth rates decades into the future while ignoring recent data that reflects deep-seated regional and national structural changes that have become apparent in the last several years. MAG's modeling, which is relied upon in the DEIS to establish purpose and need for the freeway expansion fails to accurately identify short-range growth and uses outdated data to estimate long-range growth." (Comments from Special Interest Groups on FEIS, Kevin Kane submitted by Howard Shanker/PARC, B369, page 243 of PDF).
Comments from Special Interest Groups on FEIS, Kevin Kane submitted by Howard Shanker/PARC, B356, page 239 of PDF.
Considering the above information, it is relevant what information came from the consultants, particularly Wilbur Smith Associates, and how and by whom the information was interpreted. Wilbur Smith Associates are listed as a consultant in these documents, but the numbers are vaguely attributed to MAG. The documents have no authors' names. Although information about consultants or other sources of information is not specifically requested, the comments from PARC's expert Herman Basmaciyan, P.E. notes that the DEIS inadequately provides information about the data from which MAG extrapolated their findings. The response in the FEIS does not adequately address this. (Comments from Special Interest Groups on FEIS, Herman Basmaciyan submitted by Howard Shanker/PARC, B467, page 341 of PDF).

We know that ADOT is part of MAG and that Wilbur Smith has also been a consultant for various projects for ADOT over the years. We can also gather that Wilbur Smith as been involved with this project since before the EIS was even begun so they had done a lot of the groundwork. Nonetheless we don't need one single culprit to question the motivations of the parties involved and therefore the justification of the entire project. The fact that the updated census figures do not change the conclusions made in the EIS (in addition to the lack of explanation) signifies that other changes in data may not alter the assessment of MAG, ADOT, and its consultants, indicating a desire to justify it no matter what. Whether or not Wilbur Smith Associates in particular are to blame for the numbers in the DEIS and FEIS for the South Mountain Freeway, there's still a problem.

Trade and Growth

"If you build it, they will come" is clearly not always the case as the bankrupt toll road projects have seen. However, wishful thinking, rather than deceit might more likely describe the Wilbur Smith Associates' high traffic projections, although this doesn't make it acceptable. Wilbur Smith happened to have had access to insider information about plans for trade-based economic growth in Arizona which may have led to optimism bias. For example, they were involved in various studies ranging from 1997-2003 related to CANAMEX, the NAFTA trade corridor connecting Mexico with Canada, running through five US states including Arizona.

MAG, ADOT, their consultants and other organizations such as the Arizona-Mexico Commission all have an interest in selling the region as a place for investment. International trade, specifically with Mexico, is central to plans for Arizona's economic growth. Trade would supposedly bring growth and therefore, demands for new transportation infrastructure. Wilbur Smith (CDM) relies on new infrastructure projects to continue to be able to make money.

With the interests in creating the "Sun Corridor" as a trade hub, a "megapolitan" along the CANAMEX Corridor, various private parties, including consultants for ADOT, have been optimistic (with recession-based interruption) because of the moves towards encouraging increased truck traffic.


Wilbur Smith was listed as being part of the CANAMEX Consultant team. Linda Carpenter, who was involved with the CANAMEX Coalition study was also a revenue consultant as part of Wilbur Smith Associates for the Transportation Vision 21 Task Force final report to the Governor in 2001.

The Arizona Republic reported, "The CANAMEX Corridor Task Force has contracted with Wilbur Smith Associates of Columbia, S.C., to study what opportunities Arizona could get. A lot of the impact will depend on where any roads and railroads built from the port would lead."

It may seem contradictory that PARC's experts claimed both that the traffic projections were too high and that the road is meant to deal with increased truck/freight traffic. Despite the fact that it seems that Wilbur Smith's optimism bias has to do with their expectation that there will be an increase in truck traffic as part of this trade, ADOT has denied that the road is intended as a truck bypass. If the purpose and need for the road were to be justified as a truck bypass, there would be much more opposition and little support. If it is justified as addressing future commuter traffic, then it can more easily be sold to the public. And if trade increases, then Wilbur Smith's projections will not be questioned.

In other cases, Wilbur Smith Associates may choose the high end of the range of possibility regarding traffic forecasts, assuming that with increased infrastructure will come more growth. The question is how decisions about infrastructure are being made, such as with CANAMEX (of which the most recent development is the completion of the Interstate 11 study), for example, or with the way it was decided that the South Mountain Freeway should be a public-private partnership (P3). Note too that Wilbur Smith was hired as a consultant for the Office of P3 Initiatives and International Affairs, ADOT in 2010. They have been proponents of P3s for quite a while.

The extent of Wilbur Smith's relationship with ADOT and MAG may bring even more problems. While the risk of bankrupting a toll road is no longer part of the picture, the funds with which the Loop 202 extension would be paid for (to whichever private consortium wins the intended public-private partnership bid) rely on similar socioeconomic and traffic projections due to the funds coming from gas taxes, vehicle registration fees, and state sales taxes. Wilbur Smith Associates contributed to these projections as a consultant for the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT). If these numbers were inflated, how will that affect the state of Arizona? How many tax-payer dollars have been put into this project already, which may not even be justified? See the upcoming Part Two.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

From the ADOT website:

Final Environmental Impact Statement Errata

As part of the public review period for the South Mountain Freeway Final Environmental Impact (EIS) Statement, it was noted that 10 comments submitted in 2013 on the Draft EIS were not documented in the Final EIS. As a result, ADOT and the Federal Highway Administration issued a formal Notice of Omission in the Federal Register on Nov. 7, 2014, and published an Errata to the Final EIS on Nov. 28, 2014. The Errata contains the 10 additional comments to the Draft EIS that were inadvertently not recorded in the Final EIS and includes the responses to those comments. The Errata is available for a 30-day review until Dec. 27, 2014.
The files below are in PDF format unless otherwise noted.

ADOT has not put out a press release, and this update to their page does not make it clear that comments are accepted now until 12/27/14.

Update: ADOT sent out an announcement via email (content below) after viewing this website. Someone there checks this website every few days. (Hey ADOT- quit being racist and trying to destroy the environment for your financial agenda!) A press release has still not shown up on their website.

South Mountain Freeway comment deadline extended to Dec. 29
Addendum to Final Environmental Impact Statement now available for review
With the Arizona Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration issuing an addendum – called an Errata – to the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed South Mountain Freeway, the comment period has been extended to Dec. 29 for final comments before a Record of Decision is issued in 2015.
Of the more than 8,000 comments received during the public review period for the South Mountain Freeway Draft Environmental Impact Statement, it was noted that 10 comments submitted in 2013 were inadvertently not relayed to the study team for incorporation into the Final Environmental Impact Statement, which was released Sept. 26. As a result, the Arizona Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration issued a “Notice of Omission” in the Federal Register and published an Errata to the Final Environmental Impact Statement.
The Errata contains the 10 comments and formal responses to those comments; it will be available for a 30-day public review period. The Errata can be found at these 18 locations:
  • Phoenix Public Library – Cesar Chavez; 3635 W. Baseline Road, Laveen; 602.262.4636
  • Phoenix Public Library – Desert Sage; 7602 W. Encanto Blvd., Phoenix; 602.262.4636
  • Phoenix Public Library – Ironwood; 4333 E. Chandler Blvd., Phoenix; 602.262.4636
  • Phoenix Public Library – Burton Barr; 1221 N. Central Ave., Phoenix; 602.262.4636
  • Chandler Sunset Library; 4930 W. Ray Road, Chandler; 480.782.2800
  • Sam Garcia Western Avenue Library; 495 E. Western Ave., Avondale; 623.333.2565
  • Tolleson West Public Library; 9555 W. Van Buren St., Tolleson; 623.936.2746
  • Tempe Public Library; 3500 S. Rural Road, Tempe; 480.350.5500
  • ADOT Environmental Planning Group; 1611 W. Jackson St., Phoenix; 602.712.7767 (call for appointment)
  • Gila River Indian Community District 1 Service Center; 15747 N. Shegoi Road, Coolidge; 520.215.2110
  • Gila River Indian Community District 2 Service Center; 9239 W. Sacaton Flats Road, Sacaton; 520.562.3450/520.562.3358/520.562.1807
  • Gila River Indian Community District 3 Service Center; 31 N. Church St., Sacaton; 520.562.2700
  • Gila River Indian Community District 4 Service Center; 1510 W. Santan St., Sacaton; 520.418.3661/520.418.3228
  • Gila River Indian Community District 5 Service Center; 3456 W. Casa Blanca Road, Bapchule; 520.315.3441/520.315.3445
  • Gila River Indian Community District 6 Service Center; 5230 W. St. Johns Road, Laveen; 520.550.3805/520.550.3806/520.550.3557
  • Gila River Indian Community District 7 Service Center; 8201 W. Baseline Road, Laveen; 520.430.4780
  • Gila River Indian Community – Ira Hayes Library; 94 N. Church St., Sacaton; 520.562.3225
  • Gila River Indian Community Communications & Public Affairs Office; 525 W. Gu U Ki Road, Sacaton; 520.562.9851
A Record of Decision is expected in early 2015. The final decision on construction of the freeway is a cooperative effort involving ADOT, the Federal Highway Administration and the Maricopa Association of Governments as the regional planning agency. The corridor is part of a comprehensive, voter-approved regional plan developed by the Maricopa Association of Governments, and ADOT serves as the agency responsible for implementation of that plan, with the Federal Highway Administration providing the oversight required to use federal transportation funds.
For more information, visit azdot.gov/SouthMountainFreeway, email projects@azdot.gov, call 602.712.7006, or write to ADOT Community Relations, 1655 W. Jackson St., MD126F, Phoenix, AZ 85007.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

ADOT IS RACIST! O’odham Resistance Against the Loop 202!

November 15th, 2014
Akimel O’odham Youth Collective
Contact: Akimeloodhamyc@gmail.com

On Saturday November 15th, 2014, the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) came to the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) to hold a public forum regarding the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the proposed South Mountain Loop 202 Freeway. About 25 people attended to show their resistance to the freeway. Moadak Do’ag, also known as the South Mountains, is a sacred place for all O’odham people. Eighteen other tribes also have cultural affinities to the South Mountain range, although ADOT did not consult directly with those eighteen other tribes listed in the FEIS. The Gila River Indian Community has a history of opposition to the proposed freeway dating back to the late 1980s, yet ADOT continues to plan freeway construction through Moadak Do’ag. GRIC’s tribal council has passed three resolutions against the freeway and countless actions have been taken by community members over the decades.

Runners
Runners

The morning of November 15th started off with a prayer run beginning from part of the South Mountain range that ADOT plans to blow up for freeway construction. The prayer run went throughout District Six of the Gila River Indian Community, which is the part of GRIC that would be most harmed by the proposed freeway. The prayer run concluded at a community gathering place, the District 6 ballpark. The roughly 5 mile run had runners from age 10 to 50 years old, and included runners from the other tribes that are listed in the FEIS. The runners were met with more supporters at the District Six ballpark. The group then marched down 51st Avenue to the Komatke Boys and Girls Club where the ADOT forum was held. Marchers held signs and banners reading “ADOT IS RACIST – No More Freeways On O’odham Land”, “Save the Mountain”, “We Love Clean Air”, and several others.

Read more at https://aoycblog.wordpress.com/

Thursday, November 20, 2014

From Ayotzinapa to Arizona: NAFTA Persists

You might not think Arizona has anything to do with the 43 disappeared students from Ayotzinapa in Guerrero state in Mexico. But these disappearances had a lot to do with trade and NAFTA specifically. Arizona is spending billions of dollars on roads as trade corridors (I-11/CANAMEX, etc.) and ports of entry at the border, in addition to the accompanying border security. NAFTA requires not just the violence of border security, that of displacement and loss of jobs, but also state repression and the violence of the drug war, which are intimately connected.

The main Arizona-based proponent of NAFTA is former Congressman Jim Kolbe, who would seem in complete denial about the situation in Mexico. True, the shit hadn't quite hit the fan in Mexico when he was glorifying NAFTA at an event combined with a golf tournament in Tubac less than a month ago. At that point, news about the students' disappearance was spreading across the world as police were searching for the mayor of Iguala and his wife who were the likely masterminds of the attack. This story of the students does not have that much to do with Arizona specifically. However, students from their particular teachers college were known to protest the neoliberal reforms of President Nieto and others, and even though they may not have been doing the same on the day of their disappearance in Iguala, this is why they were targeted. Those neoliberal reforms, praised by Kolbe, continue in order to make Mexico a safer place for foreign investment, not for the people. Some Arizona elites want a cozy trade relationship with Mexico. Kolbe likely isn't ignorant of this situation even as he paints a pretty picture. He and colleagues of his who were also involved in the creation of NAFTA (one of whom was also involved in the Iran/Contra Affair, another in the military coup against Allende in Chile) are clearly seeking to continue the free trade agenda.

The attack on the students was not simple state repression, due to the relationship between the narcos and the state. In a recent interview, Laura Carlsen explains what is called "Arming NAFTA" (or "Armoring NAFTA"),
which means that there’s a series of mechanisms—the drug war being the most important—that are really aimed at militarizing the country in order to protect foreign investment. So, as that becomes even more intensified with the greater investment in oil and gas, including fracking, including things that are going to be devastating to Mexican communities and to the Mexican environment, there’s going to be more emphasis on the militarization, not to fight the drug cartels, because they haven’t even really been doing that, and certainly not been doing that effectively, but to fight the resistance of the people to the takeover of their lands and resources.
Kolbe claims that NAFTA contributed to political stability in Mexico and improved the lives of Mexican people, according to his article, "NAFTA is Working" printed around the 20th anniversary of the trade pact. Indeed, the false myths that fed the fear in Arizona leading to SB 1070, such as rumors of violence spreading from Mexico to Arizona in the form of beheadings, (and what happened to Phoenix being the number two kidnapping capitol of the world?) are barely a memory now that the illusion of calm in Mexico has won out. This facade of calm and safety requires violence or the threat of it, but it can get out of control as it perpetuates itself. Kolbe, having been involved in the creation of NAFTA, still has an interest in its functioning no matter the consequences. If Arizona is to spend billions of dollars reorganizing its infrastructure to support trade with Mexico, there's some work to be done.

There are two institutions that play a large part here with which Kolbe has connections. One is the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) and the other is the Merida Initiative also known as Plan Mexico. The SPP lasted from 2005-2009 as an extension of NAFTA functioning largely in secret. Harsha Walia and Cynthia Oka write,
The SPP calls for maximization of North American economic competitiveness in the face of growing exports from India and China; expedited means of resource (oil, natural gas, water, forest products) extraction; secure borders against “organized crime, international terrorism, and illegal migration”; standardized regulatory regimes for health, food safety, and the environment; integrated energy supply through a comprehensive resource security pact (primarily about ensuring that the US receives guaranteed flows of the oil in light of “Middle East insecurity and hostile Latin American regimes”); and coordination amongst defense forces.
The Merida Initiative, allegedly meant to combat the drug trade in Mexico, came out of the SPP. Its emphasis, like Plan Columbia, is on the supply-side rather than largely US demand for drugs. The Merida Initiative is a drug war aid package involving military hardware being provided to the Mexican military (over $2 billion since it began in 2008). So not only does it increase US political power and control in Mexico, it provides the US military industrial complex with further profits. Carlsen pointed out, "There’s a constant lobbying effort on the part of defense companies, intelligence companies and private security firms in the United States to perpetuate the Merida Initiative and to perpetuate the drug war in Mexico." Yes, as long as the drug war, and therefore the drug trade continues, the longer there is need for these aspects of the military industrial complex.

The drug war is used as a way to pull off political assassinations that can be swept under the rug by making it seem that those killed were involved in the drug trade or allowing for them to be overlooked in comparison to much more gruesome mass murders, as John Gibler discusses in a really interesting interview. Laura Carlsen also discusses the so-called collateral damage of the Merida Initiative, which are largely political attacks such as on Zapatista communities, and abuses towards women.

The Merida Initiative has contributed to the militarization of the border as well. "By including 'border security' and explicitly targeting 'flows of illicit goods and persons,' the initiative equates migrant workers with illegal contraband and terrorist threats. This ignores both the root causes of Mexican out-migration and the real demand for immigrant labor in the United States," wrote Carlsen. It is rarely mentioned that so many get involved in the drug trade because that's the only way to make money. NAFTA and other reforms prior and since has led to this situation.

In essence, the power of the state (US and Mexico) to protect foreign investment requires violence--but justified violence. This complicated relationship between the state's need for crime and crime-fighting at the same time is discussed by John Gibler.
...the idea of corruption seems to lose any analytical or descriptive power, right. It's not that there's an otherwise integral pristine state structure that is threatened by some external  contaminating or corrupting force. It's rather that simply for organized crime to function--for it to exist as we know of it today--it must constantly have in its direct employ members of the state. And for the state political programs of drug warring to exist and to be used and manipulated as they are, they need the constant presence of enemy drug warriors with whom to combat.
In this context, it may not be all that surprising that one panelist in favor of continuing the Merida Initiative was a colleague of Kolbe's. John Negroponte who, as America's Ambassador to Honduras, was complicit with human rights violations and was essentially the tactical director of the Contra war. Negroponte claimed ignorance about the Iran Contra Affair, yet there is evidence he was deeply complicit. It's important to note that aside from the international arms trade, money from cocaine trafficking made up part of the unofficial funding to the Contras provided by the US Government.

Kolbe works with Negroponte and others who were involved in NAFTA, as part of the Global Strategies team of McLarty and Associates formerly known as Kissinger McLarty Associates (Kolbe started before Kissinger split from McLarty). Henry Kissinger, known to many as a war criminal, was complicit in the CIA-backed military coup in Chile. Kissinger is famous for calling NAFTA "the single most important decision that Congress would make during Mr. Clinton’s first term…the most creative step toward a new world order taken by any group of countries since the end of the Cold War … not a conventional trade agreement but the architecture of a new international system." Thomas "Mack" McLarty, president of McLarty and Associates, is described as a key figure in the creation of NAFTA and the FTAA and was also involved in the SPP.

Jim Kolbe has played a central role in pushing for the CANAMEX Corridor, the NAFTA trade route connecting Canada, the US, and Mexico that also came out of SPP. Kolbe is the CANAMEX expert for the Arizona-Mexico Commission (AMC) which Kolbe calls the god-father of CANAMEX. Arizona Governor Brewer, who is a chair of the AMC, appointed Jim Kolbe as the chair of the Arizona Governor’s CANAMEX Task Force and is Arizona’s private sector designate to the multi-state CANAMEX coalition which might be defunct, or perhaps has taken new form. According to the AMC website, "the Arizona Governor’s Transportation and Trade Corridor Alliance (TTCA)... encompasses the former CANAMEX Task Force." Kolbe was also appointed by the Governor as co-chair of the TTCA (the other being ADOT Director John Halikowski). Rather than being an extension of the Arizona government, TTCA, with its many private sector members, is more of an extension of AMC. There is a lot of overlap between AMC, TTCA, and transportation committees, as elaborated on in Arizona's Roads Meant for Trade with Mexico Despite Corruption and Violence?
 
The Arizona Office of Tourism joined up with the TTCA on November 7th, the same day that officials announced that the students had most likely been murdered, incinerated, and dumped in Cocula. "Arizona Should Seize the Moment as Trade Partner with Mexico" was the title of an article by an official with the Arizona Office of Tourism printed last week after protesters torched several government buildings in Mexico in response to the government's indifference. Of course there was no mention of the violence in Mexico in the Arizona Office of Tourism articles. Perhaps Arizona is just slow to realize the implications of what happened in Mexico.

Laura Carlsen explained,
Mexico, with the reforms under Peña Nieto..., is now betting the entire country on foreign investment, especially in the newly opened oil and gas area. And President Obama and the Mexican government and the transnational corporations that are based in the U.S. have been pushing this, and it’s one of the reasons they created this very false image of everything’s great and modern, and Peña Nieto is the great reformer in Mexico, that has now been completely shattered by the revelations not just of the 43 students, but the mass graves and the disappearances and the corruption and collusion throughout the country.
The issue is not so much a moral question about Arizona's participation with this narcoestado whose corruption also involves the favors to a Chinese-led consortium for a $4 billion rail deal in exchange for a mansion. It is more about the ways in which state power is used to enforce these policies favorable to private interests such as multinational corporations, here in Arizona and elsewhere. Multiple Arizona agencies have trade with Mexico as a primary focus. If they don't, the TTCA will make sure they do. Arizona just opened a trade office in Mexico and announced various moves to improve trade and increase security. There are massive plans for shaping the so-called Sun Corridor as a trade hub along CANAMEX or the Intermountain West Corridor which means the I-11 and various other roads that may act as truck bypasses, such as the South Mountain Freeway. Billions of our tax dollars is being funneled in this direction of trade with Mexico, yet we will also not see the benefits of it.

Ayotzinapa's disappeared may be a turning point for Arizona.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Arizona's Roads Meant for Trade with Mexico Despite Corruption and Violence?

Protesters temporarily close the Acapulco Airport November 10
It has been decided for us that the destiny of Arizona's economy has everything to do with international trade, specifically trade with Mexico. Perhaps it seemed that the current Mexican president was succeeding in making Mexico safer for foreign investments, but in recent days, the press is saying Peña Nieto is in the midst of the worst crisis of his presidency. Evidence is pointing to the horrible mass-murder of 43 student protesters in the state of Guerrero last seen in custody of police. Most likely, the murder, destruction (bodies were chopped up and burned), and disposal of the students was master-minded by the mayor and/or his wife who wanted to be the next mayor, both of whom fled but were captured by authorities. Protesters recently attacked the National Palace in response to Nieto, rather than showing respect for the families of the students, leaving for China amidst a controversy regarding a Chinese-led consortium (which included Mexican companies) winning a bid for a high speed passenger rail. Media has exposed a likely quid pro quo deal in which Nieto and his wife received a mansion in exchange for the award for the rail bid. The $4 billion deal for the rail system was suddenly cancelled when this and other questions about transparency came up regarding the bid.

There is no question that Arizona's transportation plans revolve around trade with Mexico. There is a major push for Interstate 11 for example. Much has moved forward recently in furtherance of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) largely in part to the expected growth of the Mexican economy and its role in international trade. Not to imply that there is no corruption among the US and state governments, the enthusiasm with which AZ officials embrace trade with Mexico raises various questions, especially now. Increased transportation infrastructure opens more doors for multi-billion dollar arenas for corruption, likely facilitates the drug trade (and more security at check points and such may only mean more arms, equipment, and training going to those working with drug cartels), in addition to more human rights violations and environmental damage when and where the infrastructure is built. Transportation and trade go hand in hand not only because of the requirement for movement of goods, but also because both are venues that allow multinational corporations to make massive amounts of money.

Mexican transportation infrastructure is meant to link up to Arizona's. Case in point is the major October announcement, discussed by KJZZ, that Mexican officials pledged "to spend the equivalent of $1 billion on highway improvements to expedite the shipments of goods from central Mexico into the U.S." Specifically this involves the improvement of Route 15 leading north to Nogales (part of the CANAMEX Corridor). This is where Interstate 11 from Las Vegas through Arizona is likely intended to reach the Mexican border.

There is such an effort to push international trade as the basis of Arizona's economy that John McCain wrote a Guest Opinion piece titled, "We must make it easy to do business in Arizona" printed last month in a Nogales newspaper

A recent ADOT press release stated that "the U.S. and Mexican governments finalized a plan to invest $6.8 million implementing U.S. technology, equipment and training to enhance the efficiency of the military inspection station north of Hermosillo, which inspects more than 1,000 trucks per day." Increased international trade brings more border security and militarization.

The release also listed other developments regarding Arizona-Mexico trade including increased freight rail infrastructure, "development of a new port of entry at Douglas/Agua Prieta and the expansion of the San Luis II Port of Entry at San Luis, Arizona," in addition to "advances to the necessary improvements to the Mexican side of the Nogales-Mariposa Port of Entry at Nogales, Arizona."

ADOT also recently announced the launch of Arizona's new trade office in Mexico and a delegation of Arizonans to Mexico City for strategic meetings. Mexican leaders announced that ProMexico, which is "the federal government agency responsible for promoting Mexico's participation in the international economy," will open an office in Phoenix.

Although the Transportation and Trade Corridor Alliance released its Roadmap several months ago, they're making efforts to push their agenda with their action plan recently posted on their website. Goal #1 is to Establish Arizona as a leader in High Value Trade and Investment, and goal #2 is to Develop an Integrated Transportation System Supportive of Arizona's Economic Goals. As part of this second goal, they seek to support what they call "Key Commerce Corridors." They say, "The Key Commerce Corridors plan represents Arizona's major statewide transportation initiative for the next 20 years."

TTCA is claiming they're the best authority on prioritizing Arizona's transportation plans and that they plan to come up with funding options, which involves public-private partnerships (P3). "Creative ideas for an era of reduced federal funding include new state and local revenue sources, private infrastructure, P3s, user fees, local funding, and high-impact, low-cost projects to meet infrastructure needs." Of course they're pro P3- they're made up of public and private members.

According to their website, "TTCA will serve as the state's freight advisory committee, as required under the recently enacted federal transportation bill," which refers to MAP-21. According to the Arizona-Mexico Commission website, "the Arizona Governor’s Transportation and Trade Corridor Alliance (TTCA)... encompasses the former CANAMEX Task Force." A review of recent Arizona State Transportation Board minutes shows an emphasis on TTCA's influence.

The TTCA would probably not exist without the Arizona-Mexico Commission. AMC is a non-profit organization which is essentially a public-private partnership unit in that its leadership involves public officials such as the governor (Brewer) and the director of ADOT (Halikowski) in addition to several private, as in corporate, partners. The Transportation and Trade Corridor Alliance (TTCA) is primarily made up of AMC board or committee members and gives AMC's agenda more legitimacy and reach. TTCA was instituted in early 2012 by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. According to a press release back then, "ADOT – in collaboration with the Arizona-Mexico Commission and the Arizona Commerce Authority – will bring together public and private sector partners to assess opportunities for Arizona to pursue investments in trade corridors such as the newly-designated Interstate 11, and to explore enhancements to border infrastructure. The Alliance will help identify how best to take advantage of the state’s current resources and guide future investment in a strategic way to increase the capacity of existing corridors – all with the ultimate goal of improving Arizona’s competitiveness in a global marketplace"

As discussed on this blog, AMC is said to be the "god father" of the CANAMEX Corridor by AMC's CANAMEX expert Jim Kolbe. It is likely that CANAMEX is not specifically mentioned in the TTCA Roadmap or Action Plan because Interstate 11 is now in the works. Interstate 11 would in some ways complete CANAMEX, but is also part of a vision for a similar trade Corridor called the Intermountain West Corridor, which may eventually be designated officially as Interstate 11 from the border with Canada to the border with Mexico. See Filling in the I-11/CANAMEX Gaps for more exploration of this issue.  

Below is a list of people representing the overlap between various organizations related to trade and transportation. (It is uncertain as to whether the CANAMEX Coalition still exists, hence the parentheses below. Where AMC is in bold, the individual is on the board rather than just on a committee).
  • John Halikowski (ADOT Director): State Transportation Board, AMC, TTCA
  • Victor Flores: State Transportation Board, AMC, TTCA
  • Hank Rogers: State Transportation Board, AMC
  • Jack Sellers: State Transportation Board, AMC
  • Jim Kolbe: TTCA, AMC, (CANAMEX Coalition)
  • James Manson: TTCA, AMC
  • Gary Magrino: TTCA, AMC (formerly)
  • Mary Peters: TTCA, (CANAMEX Coalition)
  • Margie Emmerman, TTCA, AMC, (CANAMEX Coalition)
  • Bruce Wright, TTCA, AMC, (CANAMEX Coalition)
  • Tom Skancke Executive Director of I-11 Coalition, (CANAMEX Coalition)
  • Dave Berry President of the I-11 Coalition, formerly AZ Governor's CANAMEX task force
The TTCA recently put on an event in early November as described in an ADOT press release: As the World Trades: Leaders to discuss Arizona’s place in global economy. "Leaders from Arizona’s transportation, trade and commerce industries will come together with national and international business specialists next week to discuss Arizona’s stake in the global marketplace and strategies to foster international trade and economic growth."

An additional component of all of this is the partnering agreement signed in April of 2014 to form the Arizona-Sonora Binational Megaregion. According to the Yuma Sun, "The newly formed Arizona-Sonora Binational Megaregion will 'foster competitiveness and innovation' and 'implement economic development plans and strategies to benefit the megaregion.'"

Considering so many US citizens know someone who has lost their job to China or Mexico, how do state officials expect to convince us that more trade with Mexico will bring economic prosperity? NAFTA has not been good for any workers. Although NAFTA was not the beginning of the negative impact in Mexico of US influence on policy, nor of international trade, there is plenty of evidence that it had a major detriment to Mexican workers and their families. The US government correctly predicted that NAFTA would lead to displacement and migration of Mexicans and began to increase border security in urban areas, such as Operation Gatekeeper in the San Diego area, launched the same year NAFTA was enacted. Migrants have been scapegoats in response to decreasing employment rates, yet it is the companies that seek cheaper wages, lower labor standards and less environmental regulations. Add to this the corruption that is so clear among Mexican officials, and we can see that any bi-national partnership can bring nothing good.

Read more on this subject at Megapolitan in a Mega-Drought? A Guide to the Sun Corridor (scroll down to "Trade with Mexico".

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


Monday, October 13, 2014

Megapolitan in a Mega-Drought? A Guide to the Sun Corridor

Plans for massive new transportation projects in Arizona such as the Interstate 11, South Mountain Freeway Loop 202 Extension, and High Speed Passenger Rail seem out of touch with reality. As the urban heat island effect expands and the drought gets worse, it may be inevitable that residents will have no choice but to use expensive water piped in from desalination plants on the coast of Mexico or California. The massive amounts of energy needed to construct this infrastructure for desalination and transport also requires an immense amount of water--an endless ridiculous cycle--but one that is profitable to a few. Will those with the vision for the future of the so-called Sun Corridor, a "megapolitan" including Phoenix and Tucson, ignore these problems, and simply promote growth by building new roads like Interstate 11 and the South Mountain Freeway to allegedly improve the region's position in the global economy and provide the private sector with opportunities to make money on transportation projects?

Even the authors of the report to which most of the popularity of the Sun Corridor concept is owed admit that they're not so sure about the environmental sustainability of such a concept, yet at this point, many city and state officials as well as others take the Sun Corridor as inevitable. According to some in local government, media, and academia, it is both already the Sun Corridor, as well as a work-in-progress that requires strategic planning, infrastructure such as Interstate 11 and high-speed passenger rail connecting Tucson and Phoenix, intentional branding, and a regional identity.

Sun Corridor cheerleaders have projected that the area would double in population from 5 million to 10 million by 2050. The Sun Corridor is taken as a given, or inevitable because of this growth. It is allegedly justified both to accommodate the projected growth and to encourage it. The relationship between Phoenix and Tucson is described as natural and organic, despite the fact that the entire basis upon which the cities' settlement and expansion has been achieved has been through theft and exploitation of land, water, and other resources.

Primarily a project of think tanks with funding by large foundations, the Sun Corridor is one of several "megapolitans" in the US which were defined only about ten years ago based on projected population, proximity between two or more urban areas, an economic integration across boundaries, and their importance in global trade. In some ways it is a prediction based on a trajectory, but mostly it is an agenda for profit-seekers. The Sun Corridor concept is by no means homegrown. Some local officials adopted it after being informed by consultants of the “benefits” of the global competitiveness it would bring, or by the institutions pushing public-private partnerships or state trust land reforms for more developments or infrastructure.

Megaregions, Global-City Regions, Mega-Cities, etc. as trade hubs that surpass the metropolitan scale are not at all specific to the US, nor are they new. These and the accompanying finance, infrastructure and governance projects arose out of free-market-oriented models across the world, largely promoted and pushed by the World Bank specifically through structural adjustment programs and development over the last couple decades. The economic integration mirrors that of arrangements such as NAFTA paired with infrastructure like CANAMEX/I-11, or the the European Union with their passenger rail system. The Sun Corridor is part of a much broader shift towards large private companies attempting to gain access to decision-making and tax dollars to carve their design into the land in effort to increase economic competitiveness.

Profit-making opportunities abound for the few who are in a position to take advantage if the Sun Corridor comes to fruition. First, a megapolitan is seen as an important node in global trade, a way for the region to become economically competitive, or at least this is the justification used for promoting growth. It is also an opportunity for companies to win infrastructure deals, since pushing the megapolitan concept brings along "necessity" for infrastructure like roads and rail. It may allow for changes to laws regarding state trust land, which would enable transportation projects and new development projects. Megapolitans, along with other megaregions, span municipal and sometimes state or even international lines and render the area vulnerable to imposition of new methods of organization and governance, with the full intention of providing private interests access to decision-making and new "partnerships." An arrangement called a public-private partnership (P3) is an integral part of the megapolitan plan.

Financial Interests

Big banks, consultants, engineering and construction companies, and real estate developers all have interests in these new projects, even if they're not quite all on the same page. Those with the most power and influence are the large financial institutions with their relationships to think tanks, foundations, and academia.

Despite the high degree of interest in the construction of new roads and such, the the overarching motivation mustn't be overlooked. As explained in More than Bricks and Mortar, the primary incentive is likely a growing effort on the part of financial institutions and those who see common interests to find more profit-making opportunities.
Arizona Sun Corridor Partnership
"... 'infrastructure' is less about financing development (which is at best a sideshow) than about developing finance..." "what is being constructed are the subsidies, fiscal incentives, capital markets, regulatory regimes and other support systems necessary to transform 'infrastructure' into an asset class that should yield above average profits." 
Public-private partnership (P3), a variation on privatization, is the increasingly preferred “innovative financing solution” used to accomplish arrangements for transportation projects, sometimes involving toll roads for example, but often instead, companies get paid through taxes. P3s may be somewhat new to the US, but they're not new to the world. Since the 1980's, investment banks have developed new ways of making sure they receive full repayment for loans to countries across the world, rather than accepting when they've made bad investments. Repayment was ensured through the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, which saw major neoliberal influence in the early 80's, with a major role played by the Rockefeller Foundation, whose sway did not stop there. Indebted countries were then required to make institutional reforms called "structural adjustment programs" which cut back on social welfare programs and opened the country up to privatization and further foreign investment. Increasingly, investment banks and others have sought opportunities for profit-making in various developing countries, but also in Europe and North America through P3s for infrastructure projects. While structural adjustment programs had largely functioned as austerity measures and accepted only as conditions for accessing loans (with little to no choice), P3s in the US are portrayed as smart options for building roads and such.

In the early 2000s, financial institutions began to arrange for public-private partnerships (including the reform of state laws to enable P3s) to fund infrastructure projects in the US. These ranged from preservation and repair of old transportation infrastructure to development of new infrastructure, specifically trade corridors and transportation that would facilitate conurbation, such as intercity passenger rail. The relationships between the World Bank, Rockefeller Foundation (and other Rockefeller institutions and individuals), JP Morgan Chase, the Brookings Institution, and beyond is integral to this direction. The projects that get completed will have more and more to do with what these elite institutions decide to arrange financing for.

The "Megapolitan" in particular was conceptualized in the mid-2000s. It largely arose out of a graduate urban planning studio at University of Pennsylvania School of Design in 2004 called "Plan for America" involving the Regional Planning Association (RPA) and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy (with connections to the World Bank and close ties to the Brookings Institution). RPA and the Lincoln Institute, sometimes along with the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Rockefeller Foundation, and/or the Ford Foundation sponsored several more forums, conferences, studies and documents. Out of this came America 2050 (funded by the Rockefeller Foundation through RPA, as well as the Ford Foundation), which is a primary proponent of the megapolitan concept, along with high-speed passenger rail.

Central to the definition and promotion of megapolitans and the Sun Corridor is Robert E. Lang, originally of Virginia Tech, with fellowships through the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and the Brookings Institution and involvement in America 2050. He co-authored numerous papers on US megapolitans, as well as the book Megapolitan America. Making the "Sun Corridor" a much more recognizable name, he worked with the Morrison Institute (with Grady Gammage Jr.) on the Megapolitan: Arizona's Sun Corridor while a visiting professor at Arizona State University. Lang became a spokesperson for the concept.

In 2008 when this Morrison report came out, the Arizona Republic printed an article in which Lang (with John Stuart Hall) revealed some of the primary reasons for interest in the Sun Corridor:
Mega regions will be closely watched because of the importance of more people to federal funding formulas (such as with transportation), marketing targets and venture-capital options.
The Sun Corridor also has unique challenges. For example, how state trust land will be developed is a critical wild card since more than a quarter of the Sun Corridor is managed by the State Land Department.
State Trust Land

In the context of a major drought, imagine a whole new city of another million residents being planned south-east of Phoenix. The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy has been particularly interested in state trust land reforms, notably in Arizona for this project called the Superstition Vistas.

State trust land was provided to various states by the United States Congress for each state to lease or sell as a way to generate revenue to benefit public institutions such as schools. Currently, Arizona state law requires that parcels of land are sold at auction to the highest bidder, making it nearly impossible for such a large section of land to be purchased with one central plan in mind. Most of the planning for Superstition Vistas dropped off due to the recession, but the land, or some of it, will likely be up for auction soon. The planning has taken place with the hopes that legal obstacles can be overcome.

Prior to the Sun Corridor report, the Morrison Institute (with Lang and Gammage) was commissioned by the Superstition Vistas steering committee for a study on the development of the land which they published in 2006 (The Treasure of the Superstitions). The steering committee also brought in the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and the so-called conservation group, the Sonoran Institute based out of Tucson, around which time, the two groups created a joint venture.

Interest in this project and the involvement of Lang and the Lincoln Institute  seems to have been integral to the advancement of the megapolitan concept and the Sun Corridor in particular. Characterizing the area as a megapolitan region could be used to justify a development project like the Superstition Vistas and the necessary state trust land reforms, and accommodate cross-boundary governance which could more easily bring in private interests. Changes to the state trust land laws in Arizona would facilitate other development and transportation infrastructure projects, such as Interstate 11 connecting Las Vegas with Phoenix and potentially beyond. According to Megapolitan: Arizona's Sun Corridor, "...this effort could become a model for mega-scale thinking about state trust land and its role in the future of Arizona."
To recap and add some context, Robert Lang and the Lincoln Institute got involved in the Superstition Vistas project around the time that Lang (with his fellowship from the Lincoln Institute) was working on the megapolitan concept. The Morrison Institute Sun Corridor report was published two years after the Superstition Vistas report. Also significant may be that in 2005, the Lincoln Institute hired a new president, Gregory Ingram, who had worked for the World Bank and International Finance Corporation (the World Bank's private arm that is heavily involved in infrastructure investment). Ingram remained president until 2012 and may have had influence on the direction of the Institute in favor of the megapolitan concept. Also significant is that the Arizona state land department Commissioner as of 2012, Vanessa Hickman, sees importance in the success of Superstition Vistas and is now also on Arizona's Transportation and Trade Corridor Alliance (TTCA), a public/private entity that promotes the importance of "key commerce corridors"--essentially trade infrastructure.
The Morrison Institute reiterates the importance of this land in their 2012 report. "The 2.4 million acres of State Trust Land that make up 18% of the total Sun Corridor area will be critical to the future growth of the area." Additionally, they emphasize the role of this land for high speed rail. "It is possible to site a high speed rail line between Phoenix and Tucson largely on state trust land. While there are considerable legal challenges to this, the rewards would be substantial." 
Freeways and High Speed Passenger Rail
 
The importance of high speed rail (HSR) to the megapolitan and megaregion concepts can not be overstated. It is difficult to determine whether rail-builders' interest was what boosted the megapolitan idea, or if it is the megapolitan concept that requires the intercity rail. What is clear is that HSR would play a very important role in tying the urban areas together.
The Arizona Department of Transportation has a study in the works for a high speed passenger rail between Phoenix and Tucson. Of the three routes they’ve narrowed it down to, the eastern-most (orange) alternative runs right through the area some planners still hope will be the Superstition Vistas. The central (yellow) route could also serve this area.

The first of five objectives of the Sonoran Institute, one of the main promoters of the Superstition Vistas project, was to “promote a commuter rail system linking Phoenix and Tucson," according to their 2010 publication “Riding the Rails to Sustainability,” as part of their Sun Corridor Legacy Program.

While the best selling point for megapolitan development is high speed passenger rail as an alternative to driving, it is not as incompatible with new highways as it's made to seem. Certain environmental non-profit organizations citing research on megapolitans and population are promoting studies that show a decreasing number of drivers and therefore less need for new highways, and yet the megapolitan vision requires new roads as well, particularly the important trade corridors. Specifically, USPIRG and AZPIRG are funded by the Rockefeller Foundation for their HSR projects, and their publications reference America 2050, the primary promoter of the megapolitan concept, which is also funded by the same foundation. Aside from America 2050, most of the promoters of pairing the megapolitan concept with passenger rail also see CANAMEX or trade corridors in general as necessary endeavors.

While AZPIRG has solicited support for their HSR campaign from groups opposing Interstate 11 and the South Mountain Freeway, they likely will not join the opposition to these roads themselves, other than releasing a report naming the I-11 as one of several money-wasting “boondoggles.” It may be lost on them that the Sun Corridor concept justifies and even requires the trade corridor that I-11 would become, and the truck bypass that the South Mountain Freeway/Loop 202 extension would provide. The megapolitan is nearly always portrayed as an international trade hub, which requires massive multi-lane roads for freight trucks. "A successful Interstate 11 will be a smartly designed multi-modal trade corridor that yields multiple benefits for rural and underserved communities on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border," is the opinion of the Sonoran Institute, or at least its Sun Corridor program director, who recently wrote in favor of the I-11. Dowdy lists rail specifically in an October 8th pro-I-11 commentary.

This is not the only mention of I-11 having multiple modes for transportation (and possibly for energy and even water). Potentially, the excitement for HSR could inadvertently be used to facilitate an acceptance of I-11, even despite PIRG's portrayal of I-11 as a boondoggle in their vaguely pro-HSR report (the report is largely based on their Rockefeller Foundation-funded research by both PIRG and the Frontier Group including the more blatantly pro-HSR "A Track Record of Success"). In a September 29th letter to the editor from AZPIRG, the director wrote, "We agree that 'this isn't about cars vs. transit' and that there should be a larger vision for an Intermountain West multi-modal corridor." The AECOM Sun Corridor report states that there's a potential to share right-of-way between rail and highway. Additionally, ADOT's 2011 Rail Plan (prepared in part by AECOM as a consultant, including Mike Kies and John McNamara who are involved in the I-11 Study) stated, "The proposed Interstate [11] route may be developed as a multimodal corridor, including freight rail, and is part of the Canamex high priority corridor, which is envisioned to include intercity or high-speed passenger rail service." Again, even if the I-11 is not justified by pairing it with HSR, there is demand for trade corridors with or without HSR.
Due to issues with increased development contributing to pollution, the urban heat island effect, increased water usage, impacts to wildlife, displacement of people, and damage to South Mountain in the case of the Loop 202 extension, the Sun Corridor's architects know that this megapolitan idea will only be accepted if it can be portrayed as “green”--as environmentally sustainable and responsible. But there are many ways of making something appear green that really isn't, such as can be seen with market-based mechanisms which involve turning things into commodities such as carbon for trade. Greenwashing is a term used to refer to the "unjustified appropriation of environmental virtue by a company, an industry, a government, a politician or even a non-government organization to create a pro-environmental image, sell a product or a policy," according to SourceWatch. This is not to imply that the benefits of HSR are enough to greenwash trade corridor infrastructure. HSR also requires a certain amount of greenwashing to justify itself. And this is not the only way that paving over the land to make space for transportation will be greenwashed.

HSR map overlaying Megapolitan map from USHSR
High speed rail would not only be used to make the megapolitan or trade corridors acceptable. It supports the concept of the megapolitan as a node in international trade, it is meant to facilitate regional identity and economic integration, it is another piece of infrastructure that provides finance opportunities, and would contribute to the destruction caused by increased development. It is true that HSR makes sense to many in an era of diminishing oil. But the political and economic stability sought by having alternatives to oil-based transportation is meant to support commercial and financial productivity, not to save the planet.
That which primarily inspired early proponents of HSR including Robert Lang to promote US megapolitans paired with HSR is the European model of regionalism and the ways HSR facilitated economic integration (the EU) and regional identity. Lang and a couple of RPA/Lincoln Institute colleagues promoted HSR as early as 2005, while most others (Brookings Institution, AECOM, PIRG, and even Lincoln Institute as a whole) didn't pick up on it in any significant way until 2009 when Obama promised billions of dollars in federal funds for HSR, at which point the HSR lobby grew exponentially. State officials, but especially the private sector, have gathered that alternative modes of transportation are necessary and desired, yet profit is the underlying motivation. Legislation continues to be introduced to facilitate more HSR in the US. Rockefeller Foundation/America 2050's U.S. High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program has made investments of $10.1 billion in high-speed and conventional passenger rail corridors across the country, according to a 2011 report. How much money would their associates (board members even?) stand to make from these projects? 

Private-Sector Imposition

Most likely any high speed rail project in Arizona, if it gets built, will be a public-private partnership (P3), like many are in Europe. The way things are going, the same could be said for roads as well. P3s can involve concession such as rail fares or tolls on roads, but can in some cases allow for an arrangement in which private companies can access financing that they couldn't otherwise, in the form of low-interest federal loans, tax-free bonds, and payments from tax-payers via local government. P3s are more attractive to governments because the arrangements allow for getting transportation projects finished without relying on the minimal government funding, although they often don’t work out in the public’s favor. The companies themselves are interested in profit, and on a larger scale, financial institutions are able to make money as well.
As described in More than Bricks and Mortar, "Under PPPs, the private sector builds, finances and manages a project in return for the government guaranteeing a revenue stream from the project’s users (in the case of a toll road, for instance, the government undertakes to pay should usage fall below a minimum number of cars per day) and giving other contractual undertakings." The report explains that the situation has been described as a “'build now, pay later' scheme that is 'no different from the credit card consumerism boom that contributed to the global financial crisis.'" An illusion is created in which it seems that financing is coming from a private source, but in the end, taxpayers or service users are making the payments. Elsewhere, P3s are often compared to mortgages, and we've seen how well we can trust banks and the government to keep these debt-based transactions from impacting the broader economy.

Nearly any document promoting megapolitans and/or trade corridors also touts P3s for their indispensable benefits, even including the early megapolitan-related 2004 City Planning Studio/Lincoln Institute document, Toward an American Spatial Development Perspective. The Brookings Institute in particular has been producing documents and policy recommendations for P3s for years. The primary Brookings document related to the Sun Corridor is by Robert Lang called Mountain Megas (2008).


Other publications that advanced the Sun Corridor concept, trade corridors, P3s and megapolitans include North America Next: North American Opportunities and the Sun Corridor (2009) prepared by the North American Center for Transborder Studies (NACTS) at ASU (now defunct); and the Sun Corridor, Future Corridor report (2010) by AECOM Global Cities Institute.

As with many neoliberal-leaning institutions, the view is that the federal government's role is to facilitate free-market policies such as free trade. In chapter five of Brookings' Mountain Megas document, entitled "Forging a New Federal-Mega Agenda for the Intermountain West" which highlights the Sun Corridor, the authors emphasize CANAMEX/I-11 and high speed passenger rail along with P3s.

Brookings and other think tanks have had success in moving the federal government in the direction of P3s. The megapolitan/P3 project has increasingly been taken on by the federal government as shown by tax-breaks and other forms of corporate welfare, as well as providing resources for local governments to implement policy changes. Case in point is the September 9, 2014 announcement of the federal government’s Build America Investment Initiative, although this is not the first effort to promote P3s. According to Chadbourne.com,
The part of the President’s new initiative that could provide the most immediate benefit is creation of a new office within the US Department of Transportation called the Build America transportation investment center. The center will open by November 14. The President said it will serve as a “one-stop shop for cities and states seeking to use innovative financing and partnerships with the private sector to support transportation infrastructure.”
The center will play an informational role. It will make federal resources more understandable and promote access to federal credit assistance programs to help finance transportation infrastructure.
This initiative includes a joint investment between the Rockefeller Foundation and the Ford Foundation of “over $1 million to support innovations in U.S. infrastructure. The new partnership will expand the infrastructure pipeline by incubating innovative public private collaborations, including... Provide seed capital for promising regional collaboration models, including regional infrastructure exchanges, that make it easier for localities to attract private finance…” “Regional” here likely implies megaregions or megapolitans.

It is worth noting that large foundations serve many roles. In addition to acting as tax shelters, foundations often have political agendas relating to the interests of their board members and/or the companies they invest in. For example, there has been a long-standing relationship between the Rockefeller Foundation and JP Morgan Chase. Many think of foundations as simply a provider of charitable donations and grants to non-profits. Tax law requires foundations to spend a minimum of 5% of their taxable assets on grants and administrative expenses, which allows much of the rest to be invested. Foundations such as Ford and Rockefeller are not politically neutral, but instead are particularly interested in proliferating free-market capitalism, managing dissent, maintaining economic and political stability, and strengthening US hegemony. They are part of the power elite. Governance allows for participation not just from the companies that foundations have relationships with, but also from non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) who often do their bidding--all with an appearance of being more democratic.

Another example of obvious involvement of the federal government is the Federal Highway Administration website and their promotion of megaregions such as in their Megaregions Report and literature review prepared by Catherine Ross (member of the National Committee for America 2050) in 2011. This, along with their promotion of P3s, has likely resulted due to lobbying. Although it may appear as a more horizontal governance approach through incentive funding and relaxation of current laws rather than top-down state power, the intention is that private interests will benefit from federal government-given protectionism and subsidies. This is a variation of “actually-existing neoliberalism,” a form that utilizes the state to allow the private sector into decision-making and financing that it previously had little access to. Governance facilitates an entry of the private sector into official decision-making such as for more infrastructure and more P3s. In the case of these types of governance structures, decisions tend to be made behind closed doors.

Brookings also promotes a new method of governance. In their Mountain Megas report, they advocated for tweaking Municipal Planning Organization (MPO) law and creating governance structures such as the Joint Planning Advisory Council (see below), and to incentivize other innovations in governance for megapolitans. This echos Lang's early writings on the megapolitan concept: "...new super MPOs could result from future legislation that directs Megapolitan Areas to plan on a vast new scale."

The junction of megapolitans/megaregions, governance, and P3s is rooted in "new regionalism," as Ross' FHWA report discusses:
...'new regionalism', proposes an institutional shift in regional emphasis from government to governance, and emphasizes public and private-sector partnerships and joint ventures... The new institutional forms require a strong coordination of governments at different scales, and public and private actors...The territorial and functional reorganization of the power of the national government means the changes of its boundaries in terms of roles, emphasizing the coordination of the boundaries between public, private, and other actors.
In this same report it was argued that the Sun Corridor "will have to consider a different form of governance, regional cooperation and infrastructure investment that will promote its global perspective and shift the paradigm to solidify it as a new geographic entity."

Described as a milestone in Sun Corridor efforts, a Joint Planning Advisory Council (JPAC) was formed in 2009 by the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG), the Pima Association of Governments (PAG) and the Central Arizona Association of Governments (CAAG). They are joined by their private “partnering agencies," the Arizona Mexico Commission (a P3 unit that is said by their CANAMEX expert to be the "godfather" of CANAMEX), the CANAMEX Coalition (also a P3 unit), AECOM, and the Morrison Institute.

Trade with Mexico

This same collaboration as initiated with JPAC is considered highly important according to the NACTS report, which the authors argued "should be implemented to take advantage of international opportunities." NACTS, the now-defunct ASU establishment, was an extension of the Security and Prosperity Partnership via the Council of the Americas. They have been a major proponent of NAFTA and the CANAMEX Trade Corridor and they conceptualized the Sun Corridor as a multi-modal inland port.


CANAMEX is a NAFTA trade corridor stretching from the western Mexican port of Guaymas up through five US states to Alberta, Canada. Interstate 11 is needed to create a better truck route between Las Vegas and Phoenix, but is intended to extend the length of the CANAMEX corridor or some variation on it called the Intermountain West Corridor, therefore going through or near Tucson to Mexico (read more on the I-11 confusion at Filling in the I-11/CANAMEX Gaps). AECOM defines the Sun Corridor as a piece of the CANAMEX Corridor and envisions the Sun Corridor as an inland port with a strong trade relationship with Mexico. Their Sun Corridor, Future Corridor report (2010) was written by AECOM Global Cities Institute. One author was AECOM's John McNamara who is now instrumental in the Interstate 11 Study and was involved in the Arizona Trade Corridor Study, an early CANAMEX document of 1993.

AECOM, which is one of the private partners within JPAC, seems to have entered the megapolitan game when they got a board member on RPA in 2006 (Kevin S. Corbett, DMJM Harris). They are involved in various types of transportation infrastructure and P3s, including high speed passenger rail and roads, the I-11 Study being only one of them. Just like the Brookings Institution's Mountain Megas report, both AECOM in their Sun Corridor, Future Corridor report (2010), and the Central Arizona Association of Governments (2011) prioritized I-11/CANAMEX and high speed rail as central to the Sun Corridor project.

Also check out more on AECOM and I-11 at Privatized Roads, Privatized Water 

The Sun Corridor and its position within the CANAMEX Corridor claim to provide business opportunities such as for the Casa Grande-based PhoenixMart, a massive wholesale trade center involving a foreign trade zone. Casa Grande is planning an "inland port" involving proximity to one or more Foreign Trade Zones (FTZ) and increased rail infrastructure. FTZs and other such zones are being increasingly created to provide incentives to big companies to do business in those areas, allowing them to avoid paying certain taxes and fees. Last year, in "PhoenixMart seen as catalyst" Melissa St. Aude wrote (likely confusing the term megapolitan with megalopolis):
Casa Grande could someday be the epicenter of a sprawling Sun Corridor megalopolis, spanning from Tucson to Phoenix.  That was the vision given Friday by PhoenixMart Chief Executive Officer Steve Betts and AZ Sourcing President Jeremy Schoenfelder...
At the center of the megalopolis would be PhoenixMart, a nearly 2-million-square-foot sourcing center with 1,750 manufacturer showroom suites, attracting wholesale buyers from around the world and triggering development of various spin-off businesses ranging from hotels, restaurants and warehouses to other services.
The promise of Arizona's economic growth has everything to do with trade with Mexico. As Albert Lannon of the Avra Valley Coalition pointed out, the I-11 Corridor Justification report use of certain projections to explain the benefits of the Interstate is telling.
The key words in the projections are “nearshoring” and “integrative manufacturing.” The planners predict that, as Chinese wages rise, Mexico will become more attractive to corporations. With U.S. manufacturing labor costs at 100 on an ADOT index, China is 5 and Mexico 12. As “trade with Mexico expands,” the report argues, so will “the current trend of moving manufactured goods production … to Mexico. ... Mexico was the most popular choice for nearshoring, where hourly compensation costs are nearly as low as China.”
The report suggests “industry clusters” and “integrative manufacturing” to house the making of parts in the U.S., with assembly in Mexico. Kies told the stakeholders, “Mexico is happening!”
The report discusses planned improvements at the Mexican port of Guaymas for container traffic. That impacts high-paying jobs in the West Coast stevedoring, trucking and warehouse industries. The report discusses receiving even more goods from Asia as another “alternative future scenario.
In their discussion of marketing I-11 to the public, the pitch is “enhancing economic vitality” and “commercial opportunities.” I-11 is being sold as a way for corporations to make more money. Period. There is no expressed interest in workers except as cheap labor across the border.
The Megaregion/megapolitan, due to its alleged promise of prosperity, is popping up everywhere, with different interests promoting varying concepts with a lack of coordination. Arizona and Sonoran government officials recently signed a partnering agreement called the Arizona Sonora Binational Megaregion. One of their listed guiding principles is to "Use the megaregion as a framework to further enable the development of local relationships to advance projects/initiatives of regional significance on both sides of the border in areas such as transportation and infrastructure, education, economic development, border security and public safety, trade area promotion, commerce and tourism."

And there's also the Southwest Triangle Megaregion, seemingly having everything to do with I-11. This specific megaregion is a new concept notably used in the I-11 Study documents by AECOM and CH2MHill. The triangle connects the Sun Corridor, Southern California Megapolitan, and Las Vegas. Older plans for high-speed passenger rail making this same triangular connection likely play a part in the creation of this megaregional conceptualization. Additionally, some other people came up with the nearby Cali-Baja Binational Megaregion. Perhaps all of this will turn into the Southwest-Sonoran Trapezoid Mega-mega-region.

Somehow the logic of globalization does not acknowledge the absurdity that the population growth in the Sun Corridor is used to justify the area's role in global trade, specifically NAFTA, even though it is policies like NAFTA that have caused the displacement south of the border, leading to migration and population growth in Arizona. The population projections for the Sun Corridor are based on the growth of the region leading up to the primary studies on the concept around the mid-2000's. More recent estimates show lower numbers but still project a few more million in the area by 2050. Pro-NAFTA institutions such as the Rockefeller Foundation, Brookings Institution, NACTS, etc, would have us believe that we can still expect trickle-down benefits from these sorts of trade arrangements. We are to accept the idea that this the Sun Corridor should be a trade-hub, with its accompanying foreign trade zones allowing tax- and duty-free transactions for corporations.

Migration from south of the border is a primary factor in local population growth and encouraging or embracing that growth through Megapolitan development would seem to hasten the likelihood that white people will become the minority, a rather silly concern. Nonetheless, Robert Lang dedicated a portion of his book, “Megapolitan America” to easing the fears of white people about getting out-numbered. He reasoned that the definition of whiteness is fluid and will be expanded. There are a number of environmentalists who also concern themselves with the ethnic and racial composition of population growth. 

Recent history has shown us that racists and xenophobes use environmental concerns to try to push their population control policies, ranging from border security to sterilization (not to mention the Rockefeller Foundation's role in population control campaigns across the world). The real problem with megapolitans in the context of environmentalism is that they don't just accommodate population growth, they encourage expansion and consumption on a mega scale. The infrastructure and accompanying resource extraction are the much bigger problems.

Environmental Sustainability

A new study shows that Arizona may be amidst a mega-drought, depending on how the next couple decades go. Yet the Morrison Institute's 2012 Sun Corridor report describes the Sun Corridor as natural and organic. While they may see the ways that a tendency towards conurbation has occurred without much private or state intervention, a glaring omission of perspective is the basis upon which the settlement and urbanization occurred in the first place.

What isn't acknowledged is, for example, "a coalition of lawyers, businessmen, and politicians engaged in 'legal theft' to turn this high desert, called Black Mesa, into one of America’s largest strip mines. The energy from that coal would power the excesses of Las Vegas and pump the Colorado River over three mountain ranges to Phoenix as part of the Central Arizona Project, the world’s most expensive water system," as described in a review of Judith Nies new book "Unreal City." Also ignored is that Tucson as a settler city was able to survive and grow due to the pumping of groundwater from the Tohono O'odham San Xavier reservation, that O'odham water rights have been undermined, and that their access to Central Arizona Project water was contingent on not having the power to prevent more pumping and pollution (e.g. from mining) of their groundwater. 

The Morrison Institute report, Watering the Sun Corridor, a follow-up to the original Sun Corridor document, contains concluding remarks that are rather myopic, and pretty much racist, with this in mind. They write, "The Sun Corridor exists only because past Arizonans worked together tirelessly to build a vast, complex plumbing system. Using the power of government to do this represented the clearest consensus imaginable about serving the needs of society through collective action" (my emphasis). This report is also laden with admissions of the limitations regarding knowledge about whether the Sun Corridor area has enough water to sustain it. Overall, it recommends proceeding with caution, and attempts to legitimize the development even if it takes more drastic infrastructural changes to accommodate it, along with a few less swimming pools.

The impact of settler infrastructure projects on indigenous communities is not a thing of the past, but continues, for example in the building of roads like the South Mountain Freeway, which would be central to the junction of the Sun Corridor and the I-11 Las Vegas-Phoenix Corridor. Its function as a truck bypass would cut through the mountain sacred to the O'odham and cause damage to the environment and to health.

In addition to the impacts of global warming, the urban heat island effect, largely due to roads, will raise temperatures. In one study, the researchers show "the intensification of observationally based urban-induced phenomena and demonstrate that the direct summer-time climate effects of the most rapidly expanding megapolitan region in the USA—Arizona’s Sun Corridor—are considerable." Can't we just paint all the roofs white to reduce the impact of the heat island effect? Well, that might be nice if it didn't also decrease rainfall by as much as an additional 4% on top of the 12% from Sun Corridor growth as discussed in "Researchers emphasize need for evaluation of tradeoffs in battling urban heat islands."


Just like the impact of coal mining in northern Arizona has been overlooked, so too have repercussions of copper mining. Freeport McMoran, the largest copper producer, with various mines in Arizona (and elsewhere) and an office in downtown Phoenix, has interests in state trust lands; they're buying up farmland for water rights; and they're scheming to gain access to more tribal water rights across Arizona. With one of the highest paid CEOs in the world, Freeport has finagled Arizona water legislation to allow them to pollute ground water (not to mention what they've done in New Mexico). In January, Freeport hired the previous director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources as their director of water strategy. Freeport is a major participant and sponsor of the Arizona-Mexico Commission--self-identified as the god-father of the CANAMEX Corridor--most likely because of their interest in the Port of Guaymas. Mining requires an exorbitant amount of water, yet individual residents will be made to feel guilty about how long they shower.

"Follow the money" is more than a cliché. The infastructural projects are clearly a means to make a few people money. Furthermore, the Sun Corridor is a fantasy at best, a heat- and drought-ridden, abandoned and perhaps apocalyptic scene at worst. Or there is no Sun Corridor. Growth, development, resource/energy extraction, can all be slowed or stopped with enough effort.