Building the Aerospace Parkway is being labeled "probably the most important economic development project to come along in 30 years" by Pima County Manager Chuck Huckelberry.

That's a big claim - one that will be a challenge to meet. But, the forward, big-picture thinking his statement represents is what the community needs to keep and expand our employment base.

The parkway will be the literal road to creating what Huckelberry calls the "Aerospace and Defense Corridor." As envisioned, the plan encourages high-technology aerospace and defense jobs in the Tucson International Airport area and science and technology-based job growth in the technology corridor on the southeast side.

As the Star's Becky Pallack reported Saturday, Huckelberry is proposing an 11-mile road along a virtually undeveloped stretch on the far south side. This $90 million project would run in a fairly straight path from I-10 and Rita Road on the southeast to the Nogales Highway, just west of the main Raytheon Missile Systems plant south of the airport. A second phase would connect the road to I-19.

The parkway project would dovetail with the already planned relocation of the Hughes Access Road, one-half mile south of its current location. Work could start on the road relocation, which would become the first part of the proposed parkway, by the end of the year, Huckelberry told us. The $8 million for that work is already allocated from the Pima Association of Govern-ments.

The new access road runs through land the county purchased after Raytheon selected Huntsville, Ala., for an expansion several years ago.

By creating the buffer zone, the county ensures room for expansion and protection from encroachment for the area's largest private employer.

The county will also dedicate land in the buffer zone for an aerospace and defense research and business park.

Huckelberry proposes adding this project to a bond package voters tentatively will see on their ballots in 2014.

First, it must be approved by the Bond Advisory Committee. As committee Chairman Larry Hecker told Pallack, the committee will need more details about the project's benefits. It will first consider it at its May meeting.

It's too early in the process to support the bond issue, but easier travel and good jobs are enticing prospects.

Huckelberry told us the proposed project would:

• Provide a relatively fast route - at the minimum a parkway - for commuters between the southwest and east sides for those working in the spread-out corridor and traveling to the airport. About 40,000 people are employed between the two areas the aerospace parkway would connect.

• Give easy access to the planned, 2,500-acre aerospace and defense park. Huckelberry said he's looking to "capitalize on aerospace and defense, a fundamental base of employment here." By increasing these kinds of employers, he hopes to have "supply chains" located in the corridor.

• Open up the mostly state-owned land surrounding the proposed aerospace parkway for business development.

The second phase, although years in the future, would be the connection of the parkway to I-19. That would create a shortcut for the significant traffic from the south that currently must travel into the urban area before connecting to I-10.

The connection also completes the transportation hub near the airport by adding easy trucking access to the rail and air service already available.

In Huckelberry's Aerospace and Defense Corridor Economic Development Initiative, he references the $168.1 million investment in 1980 for the Kino/ Campbell, Kolb and Palo Verde corridors. Those improvements, long taken for granted, gave the community much easier traveling between south-side job centers and the urban area.

Clearly, long-term thinking beats short-term thinking. But projections must be grounded in reality to convince voters of its merits if the proposal comes up for a vote.

Arizona Daily Star