Pima County has released a new economic development plan centered largely around boosting the proposed Sonoran Corridor, linking Interstate 19 south of Tucson to Interstate 10 east of the city.
The envisioned $600 million parkway-freeway combination would cut through an area south and east of the current Raytheon facility, where significant industrial- and aerospace-related growth is hoped for.
The 79-page Pima County Economic Development Plan: 2015 through 2017 addresses job-center development, infrastructure investments, capitalizing on the university system, tourism promotion, mining, strengthening ties with foreign partners and workforce training.
“Our No. 1 goal is to create primary jobs,” Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said.
Those primary jobs, Huckelberry explained, are export-based, with companies creating products that are sold in world marketplaces as opposed to retail-based employment.
He said tourism also could be considered an export-related industry.
The Sonoran Corridor would connect I-10 near Rita Road on the far southeast side with I-19 near Pima Mine Road. The plan calls the 16-mile corridor “the most important economic development surface transportation improvement in the region.”
The first piece of that plan is the already-underway realignment of Hughes Access Road for the new Aerospace Parkway at a cost of $14 million, starting at South Nogales Highway and connecting to Alvernon Way south of Tucson International Airport.
In addition to accommodating more traffic, the relocated road will give Raytheon more of a buffer for expansion, Huckelberry said. He expects construction to start this year.
Phase 2 would extend that road east to I-10, with the third, and final, segment running south almost to Pima Mine Road then west, connecting with I-19.
Funding for the whole $600 million package has not yet been identified, but Huckelberry said much of it will have to come from state and federal sources.
To get things started, however, he is pushing to have $30 million included in a future bond election. The Board of Supervisors has not yet approved any amount for bonding or called for an election.
Huckelberry said the reason for the high price tag is that the idea calls for making the full length of the I-19 to I-10 connection a two-lane freeway in both directions.
“I think it’s the most important project in the region for the next 10 to 20 years,” Huckelberry said, noting the county anticipates the southern and southeastern parts of the metro region to be the next major growth areas.
The reason for the heavy emphasis on the Sonoran Corridor is its location as a hub of transportation and logistics — sitting between two freeways, adjacent to the airport, next to the region’s only rail line into Mexico and near the Port of Tucson, which connects to the main rail line running through the region.
Tucson Metro Chamber President Mike Varney said the group supports many aspects of the economic development plan.
“I frankly think the development of the defense and aerospace park is visionary,” Varney said.
Designating an area specifically to appeal to potentially major defense and related industries would help to create a “clustering effect,” Varney said.
He also supported the effort to capitalize on logistics and transportation industries, noting the area’s proximity to the border and a potential for expansion of a railway switching yard near Picacho that has been discussed for several years were forward-looking proposals.
But the chamber boss had some concerns with the plan, or what he said was lacking in the proposal.
“We were struck with the complete absence of any language about fixing our streets and roads,” Varney said.
He said selling outside companies on the region is made more difficult when the surface streets have fallen into disrepair.
“You can’t hide bad roads,” Varney said.
Huckleberry agreed the region’s roads need major investments and said the plan does address that concern.
The county’s plan notes the Arizona Legislature has not increased the gasoline tax since 1990.
Huckleberry said the Legislature should increase the tax to provide local governments with the money they need to repair existing roads and build new ones.
The Economic Development Plan also includes renewed efforts to promote regional tourism. The plan notes that more than 22,000 jobs in the region are directly linked to tourism.
It calls for expanding the tourism-related industry through bond investments in projects such as an expanded Kino Sports Complex, improvements to Colossal Cave Mountain Park, additions at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, expansion of the Pima Air and Space Museum and repurposing the Old Courthouse building as an art museum.
Those and other tourism-related projects were included on the recent bond proposal, which has yet to be vetted by the Supervisors, totaling an investment of more than $102 million.
“It’s smart in that it uses a multifaceted approach to funding tourism,” said Dan Gibson, director of corporate communications with Visit Tucson.