[Source: Sean Holstege, Arizona Republic] — Picture new Phoenix-size cities beyond the mountains to the far south and west of the Valley, and you get a glimpse of how the region’s future might unfold over the next half-century. Now imagine how twice as many people as live here today would get around such a vastly expanded urban landscape, and you begin to appreciate the enormous challenge facing state and regional transportation planners.
To cope with Arizona’s anticipated long-range population boom, planners at the Maricopa Association of Governments have sketched out a far-reaching network of new freeways and highways beyond the White Tank and Estrella mountains, serving an area larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined, and an urban landscape stretching as far as the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station.
MAG’s plans envision 400 miles of new highways and 320 miles of rail track to support the millions of people projected to move into the vast desert area by 2050. That would double the current highway system and create a commuter-rail network that would loop around the southern mountains and deliver a badly needed line to the West Valley. MAG estimates that it would cost the region a daunting $60 billion to build all the projects on its drawing boards.
Residents already concerned about sprawl wonder, with traffic and air quality as bad as they are today, how unbearable metropolitan Phoenix will become with 8 million people living here. Others react with skepticism. They question whether the economy would ever be strong enough to lure such numbers of people here or whether sufficient water or electricity would be available to support such far-flung growth. “Being able to stop all these people coming is probably impossible, but is this plan really possible? Could this really happen? And if it could, should it?” says Dave Richins, state policy director for the Sonoran Institute, a non-profit group that advocates desert preservation.
The strategy is based on decades-old migration and birth statistics and on existing land- development rights. Long-range plans for roads to serve non- existent cities don’t foster speculative sprawl, the planners say; they anticipate what’s already in the works.
The Arizona Department of Transportation is looking ahead and next month will unveil an expansive long-term blueprint for the entire state. The agency’s director, John Halikowski, described the scope as “breathtaking.” [Note: Read the full article at 2050 vision for metro Phoenix: 400 miles of new highways.]