Poor infrastructure could thwart Arizona's trade-growth efforts

2014-07-27T00:00:00Z Poor infrastructure could thwart Arizona's trade-growth effortsBy Gabriela Rico Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Efforts in Arizona to increase trade with other states and the world face a threat, a former Arizona congressman says.

“Inefficient, outdated and congested infrastructure is the biggest threat to the opportunities,” Jim Kolbe said during a visit to Tucson.

The former 11-term Republican congressman representing Tucson is now co-chair of the Transportation and Trade Corridor Alliance. He made his remarks at a meeting last week of the Southern Arizona Logistics Education Organization (SALEO).

Kolbe reiterated what industry leaders have been saying about Arizona for years: The state’s proximity to California, Nevada, Texas and Northern Mexico is its greatest asset.

“It’s a special advantage to be sitting in the midst of this megaregion,” he said.

But, he added, if the state can’t efficiently move trucks along the interstates or increase air cargo capabilities, Arizona won’t reap the benefits of the growing manufacturing hub in neighboring Mexico.

The growth of that industry benefits Arizona because businesses can be part of the supply chain for large international companies operating in Sonora. And, the growing middle class represents more potential shoppers in Arizona stores, Kolbe said.

The alliance, created in 2012 by Gov. Jan Brewer, was tasked with developing recommendations for improving the flow of trade and commerce through Arizona.

Its “Roadmap” report was recently released and emphasized a need for the private sector to advocate for improved infrastructure.

“It is critical that we view transportation as a necessary investment to position Arizona for global competitiveness and success,” said John Halikowski, director of the Arizona Department of Transportation and co-chair of the alliance with Kolbe. “The Roadmap ties together economic development and transportation to promote trade and job growth, capitalizing on our competitive advantages of doing business in Arizona.”

The Roadmap supports a plan to invest $20 billion over 20 years to improve Arizona’s transportation infrastructure and add to it, focusing on key commerce corridors. A major goal set out is to double Arizona’s trade with Mexico and other global markets by 2025.

While there is much consensus about the need to invest in roads, rails, runways and ports, the question of how to pay for it remains unanswered.

The notion of toll roads has come up at various meetings when the subject is discussed, and Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry supports an increase in the state gas tax to fix existing roads and build new ones.

Arizona’s gas tax has been 18 cents a gallon since 1992.

See azttca.org to learn more about the alliance’s activities and projects.

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