Stop CANAMEX, Stop the Intermountain West Corridor and I-11! Stop the Sun Corridor! Stop the 202!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Sprawling Sun Corridor

One of the main complaints by Phoenix-area residents is the problem of sprawl.  Yet a number of projects are counting on and encouraging continuing development in the coming decades.  The "Sun Corridor" is the name given to the area encompassing Phoenix and Tucson, often including Prescott and perhaps south to Nogales.  It is the term given to this concept of a megapolitan region or megalopolis characterized by large population and the economic merging of more than one city.  It is also part of the CANAMEX trade corridor that acts as one of several NAFTA freeways connecting Canada with Mexico.

Recently, news has come out about an international trade center called "PhoenixMart" in Casa Grande, an international airpark in Goodyear including a foreign trade zone, and the experimental fallowing of Yuma farmlands in effort to ensure water supply for the Sun Corridor sprawl.  Meanwhile, the port of Guaymas, an important trade hub for CANAMEX will possibly double in the next few years.

Environmental and health concerns, threats to sacred sites integral to indigenous survival, displacement of people from their homes, are among the reasons people oppose increased development.  If it's not the people of Arizona who want development, then who is it?  People who stand to profit in one way or another seek to make connections with government to push their agenda through various organizations and conferences.  Private interests have the means to impact prioritization and placement of transportation infrastructure.


In "PhoenixMart seen as catalyst" Melissa St. Aude writes,
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.1 
KJZZ reports, "In November, AZ Sourcing is set to start building PhoenixMart...  About one third of those vendors are expected to be foreign companies."2 They did break ground in early November.

PhoenixMart promoters describe their reasons for choosing Casa Grande as having to do with the Sun Corridor and its increased population growth between Phoenix and Tucson, and its position as part of CANAMEX and other trade corridors.  They're also hoping for 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.

The Interstate 11, recently designated as such by Congress, intending to connect Phoenix with Las Vegas and serving as an important leg of the CANAMEX Corridor, will actually reach as far south as Casa Grande (and perhaps beyond).  Robert Jackson, the mayor of Casa Grande, is a vice president of the Interstate 11 Coalition, and seems to be acting as a spokesperson for PhoenixMart.  He also is a board member of the Highway Expansion Loan Program (HELP), described as "the ADOT advisory board that oversees a comprehensive loan and financial assistance program for eligible highway projects in Arizona."3   Jackson spoke at last month's Public Private Partnership (PPP) Task Force Meeting.  "Mayor Jackson will speak about PhoenixMart and the 5 year federal funding process of the project. He will also speak to other Public Private Partnerships in Casa Grande such as the Francisco Grande. He will do a general update on Casa Grande and talk about his role in the Pinal County Partnership."4  Pinal Partnership's mission is to "Improve research, planning and coordination of private and public efforts related to infrastructure, natural resources and community development in Pinal County."  This is clearly a proponent of public-private partnerships and involves many members associated with P3s.5  (See for more on the relevance of public-private partnerships).  Although less relevant since he has since moved on, it was interesting that Steve Betts, former CEO of PhoenixMart, chairs the Interstate 11 Coalition in addition to chairing the Governance Committee for the Urban Land Institute Az District Council, a proponent of public-private partnerships (P3s or PPP).

The federal funding referred to is likely the EB5 funding which PhoenixMart recently qualified for.  It is not direct funding from the federal government, but an incentive to foreign investors.  "Foreign businessmen and women, through this program, are allotted a U.S. green card after providing a substantial investment (ranging from $500,000 to $1 million) in United States commerce that creates or preserves approximately 10 jobs for U.S. workers in economically repressed areas. The green card encompasses the investor, and dependents (spouse and children under 18), and gives them a U.S. residency approval for two years."6    Another example of how money talks in Arizona.

Goodyear AirPark

A business park is slated for development near the Phoenix Goodyear Airport in Goodyear, a town south-west of Phoenix.  Its proximity to the proposed Loop 202 extension could be important since many opponents of the freeway have pointed out the likelihood of it being used as a truck bypass.  Certainly business ventures such as this airpark would like to make freight traffic easier near their location.  In addition, their Foreign Trade Zone status reinforces the assertions that many have made that transportation projects prioritize trade traffic over local traffic.  The proximity of Interstate 11 might also be significant.
The Foreign Trade Zone capability sweetens the site for users involved with importing goods into the U.S. The variable zoning potential for the site permits flex buildings, offices, logistics and manufacturing. The FTZ takes 75 percent off property tax bills when buildings are moved under the zone’s umbrella.
Goodyear Airpark will sit on the I-10 traffic reliever. When developed, the parkway is to connect the interstate highway to the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway.7 


In a few months, an experiment will begin as part of an attempted solution to the water issue related to this Sun Corridor sprawl.  "Since state law requires communities to prove that they have an 'assured supply' of water, the [Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District (CAGRD)] — by moving water around the region — makes available what nature does not."
"In addition to the fallowing program, the CAGRD has leased water from the White Mountain Apache tribe."8 

The report explains,
A pilot farmland-fallowing project — which will begin in January 2014 — will pay farmers not to grow crops, thus freeing up water that could be transferred to cities in the Sun Corridor, a metropolitan region centered on Phoenix, where the population could increase 50 percent by 2040 to 9 million residents, according to researchers at Arizona State University.9 
Presumably, the ASU researchers referred to here are part of the Morrison Institute.10  It is likely that the popularity of the term "Sun Corridor" is owed to the Morrison Institute and its reports, primarily authored by Grady Gammage Jr.  The problem is that these reports are not just observations on population and economic trends.  There is a specific interest in the success of this sprawling growth.  For example, Gammage Jr.'s ASU webpage describes him as “a sometime real estate developer” and states, "As a lawyer, he has represented real estate projects ranging from master-planned communities to sprawling subdivisions to high rise buildings and intense urban mixed use redevelopment."11  In the past, his avoidance of conflicts of interest has been questionable.  Regarding a past issue it was said that, “His dual roles were never disclosed to the public, so the report's readers had no idea that the author developing scenarios for selling off state-owned property was also working with a developer who was seeking to buy some of that very same property.”12 

Gammage Jr., among others, has acknowledged that things have changed since the Sun Corridor report predicted massive growth.  Last month, the Eloy Enterprise reported that,
"Experts predicted that by 2040, the megapolitan region would have a population of between 10 and 15 million people. Then the housing bubble burst and those figures were scaled back. The counties of Maricopa, Pinal and Pima combined are now projected to have 8.5 million residents by 2040.

'I say it’s going to happen, but it’s going to be slower than what was expected,' said Jim Dinkle, executive director of the Central Arizona Regional Economic Development Foundation. 'I’ve always said, in 20 years I think this will be a megalopolis where Tucson and Phoenix are connected and we are right between them. I think it will be built out in both directions.'"13
This farm-fallowing experiment and lease of water from the indigenous communities is only one piece of the larger picture concerning southwest water concerns.  Water issues in Arizona are rather complicated and volatile, and will be increasingly important.  Recent hearings on proposals to address the pollution caused by the Navajo Generating Station, a coal plant that powers movement of water through the Central Arizona Project to get it to Phoenix, illuminated the ongoing, if not worsening, issue of Phoenix's reliance on water.
"For decades this plant has emitted massive amounts of preventable pollution into the skies above our national parks like the Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest and Mesa Verde, as well as into the lungs of hundreds of thousands of local residents and visitors to these magnificent places,” said the Arizona Program Manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, Kevin Dahl, in a statement on November 11. “The pollution from this plant must be substantially reduced as soon as possible, for the sake of our lungs and our parks.”14
The prevention proposed by the EPA could cost over a billion dollars15 but what is the cost of allowing the pollution to continue?  If it's already this bad, why encourage more growth? Those with interests to develop the Sun Corridor region tend to be aware of water issues and will probably seek ways to make their efforts "greener".

Port of Guaymas

On a larger scale, the Port of Guaymas in Mexico, often said to be an end point of CANAMEX, is likely to grow in relation to the trade infrastructure that feeds it.  The Arizona Daily Star recently reported,
A multimillion-dollar investment to more than double the capacity of its deep-water seaport is underway, and within two years an additional nine docks are to be built to support ocean vessels hauling everything from coal and grain to durable goods and automobiles... Making the Guaymas port an alternative to the crowded ports in California could be a boon for Arizona, whose border is just 260 miles north. Arizona could serve as an entry point for imports, and local suppliers could benefit by being part of the manufacturing supply chain.16  
Nearby in Empalme is a trade zone and rail that leads to Arizona.  Likely, goods which will mostly come from Asia, we can assume, will be transported to foreign trade zones (FTZs) in Arizona.

Despite the promise of local jobs that pro-development hucksters keep hyping, the trade economy (which CANAMEX would extend) continues the trend of out-sourcing jobs to places where goods can be produced more cheaply, such as Mexico and China.  Trade infrastructure is not a solution to the problems locally, they are just ways for rich people to continue to make money.

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