The greater Tucson region is facing a significant economic development opportunity around the proposed establishment of an international trade corridor.

Our community already serves as a distribution point for goods coming into the U.S. from Mexico. Planning efforts are underway that are considering development of a major transcontinental shipping and transportation corridor. Based on Tucson’s geographic location and existing transportation infrastructure, the city could become the centerpiece of this corridor.

The Arizona Department of Transportation is assessing various corridors in Southern Arizona that would connect to the proposed Interstate 11 between Phoenix and Las Vegas. The agency will likely select a preferred corridor by summer 2014, which will then be subject to a comprehensive federal study that will determine an actual route. So, the time is right to begin this conversation.

Development of an international trade corridor, or ITC, would be a major undertaking, requiring close collaboration among involved jurisdictions. It also would require unprecedented partnerships between public and private entities in planning and implementing a regional solution.

There could be significant economic benefits in becoming an ITC, but as with any major economic development initiative, there are trade-offs and choices. A trade corridor would bring new, well-paying jobs and additional revenues to local governments, but it would also result in expanded distribution facilities, which requires new roads and rail spurs, and greater commercial traffic. This will impact the environment and character of our communities, but negative side effects can be turned into positives through innovative project design and other actions.

The key is to actively engage the community and have an informed conversation on the merits of becoming an ITC. Framing and moderating this discussion is where the nonprofits can play an important and constructive role. Imagine Greater Tucson, the Sonoran Institute and Arizona Forward stand ready to help guide and contribute to this important conversation, so that whatever outcome our community decides to pursue, it is consistent with our shared vision and values.

As Tucsonans, we applaud our respective organizations’ willingness to engage in and support what will likely be a spirited discussion about our region’s future. The recent personnel changes announced at Imagine Greater Tucson will not diminish their commitment to this issue or to supporting the community process. Our organizations are not specifically for or against any particular project related to the ITC but universally recognize the importance of a thoughtful dialogue so that we as a community can make intelligent and informed decisions about our future.

As a start, Imagine Greater Tucson and its partners are soliciting input from the community as to how to frame this conversation. We need to hear from you about your concerns and ideas regarding the ITC. Please visit to comment on the corridor and other transportation-related issues.

Joe Kalt is a professor at Harvard University and a Sonoran Institute board member.

Robin Shambach is a principal at BWS Architects and chair of Imagine Greater Tucson’s board of directors.

Kurt Wadlington is senior project director at Sundt Construction and an Arizona Forward board member. Contact the institute through