Imagine if a company wanted to start a project in Arizona that would help our economy by offering:
• 250 to 300 high-wage jobs;
• Millions of dollars in tax revenues to state and local jurisdictions;
• The sale of State Trust Land for this project would provide schools with an extra $60 million;
• $300 million in capital investment;
• The potential for thousands of additional local jobs in the areas of cargo handling, manufacturing, warehousing and trucking due to the success of this project;
• Taking three semi-trailers off the road for every rail car filed with goods.
Now imagine the State of Arizona turning this opportunity away.
The project is the Union Pacific Red Rock Project located along I-10 north of the Red Rock Community. This positive economic engine for Pinal County and surrounding counties currently languishes with the Arizona State Land Department and Gov. Jan Brewer.
The first question is: Why?
The Union Pacific Red Rock Project is stalled by the state for a variety of perceived issues. One is the Arizona State Land Department’s ambiguous goal of putting the land to the “highest and best use.” Placing an industrial transportation project on acres of barren land located next to a busy freeway and railroad tracks would seem a logical use of this state property. The land in question is already zoned for industrial and commercial purposes in the Pinal County Comprehensive Plan.
In an effort to continually stall the project, State Land has asked for a myriad extra reports and studies, although Union Pacific studies have shown this land to be a perfect location for such an operation. State Land is also relying on data supplied by an economic analyst report that was rife with fallacies, misinformation and longshot suppositions by the author. The author of this misguided report failed to consult community and government leaders and local landowners in their effort to find relevant data.
The Union Pacific Red Rock Project is a classification yard, in railway terms. What this means is that trains coming into the area with boxcars loaded with good and materials would be placed in the yard. The Union Pacific would then place these boxcars on a train that would take them to their ultimate destination. There is no off-loading of materials at this stop. Using this method at this location means fewer trucks are needed to haul these products and lower shipping costs to the consumer.
This project is considered important for the long-term strategic planning for the future of the region. Pinal County would be the site of the largest classification yard in the Southwest United States. We would be a key player in the economic viability of rail service between Texas and California.
Support for this project extends far past the boundaries of Pinal County. The state legislature gathered 83 percent of its members’ votes to support the classification yard. Many local city and town councils have passed resolutions supporting the project.
The question remains: Why are Governor Brewer, the Arizona State Land Department and the Arizona Commerce Authority dragging their heels on a project that has the best interests of Pinal County and the State of Arizona at hand? We have a golden opportunity to create high-paying jobs in a time when we need them the most. The land is right and the time is right.
The highest and best use of this land is for the people of Pinal County and the State of Arizona.
(Editor's Note: Pete Rios is a member of the Pinal County Board of Supervisors.)