By Chase Kamp
Copper Area News
The recently announced formation of a new metropolitan planning organization (MPO) in Pinal County has prompted some towns to shuffle their alliances. Still, local government leaders say the creation of the Sun Corridor Municipal Planning Organization will help to more closely define the needs and goals of specific regions as they plan for the future.
At a meeting of the Pinal Partnership organization on Jan. 18, 2013, three Pinal mayors and heads of the two major counsels of governments discussed why the Sun Corridor MPO had to form, which towns and entities are interested in joining and what it means for the region as a whole.
MPOs serve to guide the transportation, environmental impact and other future issue planning for specific regions. The Sun Corridor MPO is being formed by the City of Casa Grande because the city reached beyond a 50,000 population threshold, explained Mayor Bob Jackson, a requirement of a new federal transportation law.
Joining Casa Grande in this new organization are the cities of Eloy, Coolidge, San Tan Valley and most recently Florence, which announced a resolution to join on Jan. 22.
Jackson said the scope of Central Arizona Association of Governments, or CAAG, had become stretched thin to accommodate the entirety of both Pinal and Gila counties.
He said the new MPO would create an opportunity to focus on the needs of the immediate surroundings of western Pinal. “I think what’s happened in western Pinal is that we no longer have the same issues that they have in eastern Pinal County and Gila County,” he said.
In another big shift, the City of Maricopa recently voted to join the Maricopa Association of Governments, or MAG, though the city is located in Pinal County. Mayor Christian Price said it was not an easy decision, one that needed to be made in only two months and was not intended to disconnect from Pinal.
“In the end it comes down to what your residents identify with,” Price said, citing that 75 percent of the city’s residents work in Maricopa County.
“Some said that if we joined MAG, we would be one of the little fish,” he said, but argued there were 16 cities smaller than Maricopa in the organization.
Jackson said he recognized the pros and cons of Maricopa’s decision, but argued that having an ally in Maricopa County would lend itself to projects like the East-West corridor and I-11 project. “Maricopa becomes our voice at that MAG meeting,” he said.
However, CAAG is the group that takes a big hit, Jackson explained. About two-thirds of the money CAG receives for transportation related to population would exit along with Maricopa and the Sun Corridor MPO members.
Florence Mayor Tom Rankin, who fought to keep Maricopa in CAAG, told the gathering that he would work with San Tan Valley to eventually incorporate and solidify the western Pinal region. “This MPO to me is what makes Pinal County,” he said. “We have to do it right in setting the boundaries.”
Though the more populous areas may be organizing around their shared goals, Rankin said, the smaller eastern Pinal and Gila County entities that make up Central Arizona Association of Governments will not be neglected.
“CAAG is not going to die,” Rankin said. “We cannot forget eastern Pinal County.”