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AZ State Transportation Plan May be Model for STEM Education Transformation
Guest Author: Theodore “Ted” C. Kraver Ph.D.
On September 23rd I made my monthly 5 mile trek south on Central Ave to Alexis’ restaurant for breakfast and Morning Scoop panel discussion organized by the Arizona Capital Times. (Yeah…I know…tough duty!) The business/governance panel included Victor Mendez Deputy Director U. S. Department of Transportation, who had served as Director of AZ Dept. Of Transportation (ADOT), David Martin Associated General Contractors of AZ, Marisa Walker Strategic Planner for Arizona Commerce Authority and Jennifer Toth Engineer and Deputy Director of ADOT.
I had a rare experience. For over 40 years I have been engaged in many education, economic development and technology meetings that focused on near term issues. But these folks kept their focus on strategic, comprehensive and quantitative aspects of the State’s entire transportation system. The breadth of transportation included airborne, waterways, roads and boarder entries, railroads, light rail, and broadband telecommunications, and how they were interrelated. The discussions started with the massive development needed on the highway trade corridors to expand trade and economic opportunities between four of the nation’s six largest cities.
The panelists did not shrink from stating need for $20 Billion of new funding over the next decade for the highway corridors. Currently ADOT has but $25 million for expansion, only good for one mile of four-lane interstate. The reason for the drought of dough is the recession and that Arizona has not raised taxes in over 20 years. The total system for the long range future of Arizona will eventually require $68 billion which simple math tells us is only $300 per citizen (1% of consumption) for 1/3 of their lifetime. The payback is the most modern and high tech transportation system in the county and a huge economic driver throughout our state. Certainly works for me.
Arizona must increase the percentage of goods and materials that flow into and out of Arizona businesses compared to the massive amount that just crosses through on Arizona highways and rail lines. One technology based product is from Mexico, the 5th largest producer of automobiles. Global connections of our commerce corridors to major ports on land, sea and air are vital to Arizona’s scientific, technological and engineering enterprise success. The long range strategic analysis factors included current cost of border delays and indirect costs of decreased quality of life for Arizonan. Our unique quality of life is the foundation for all other aspects of high tech enterprise growth.
But the major barrier to securing long range public support is the public’s short range span of concern. The Minnesota I-35 bridge collapse seven years ago only sustained public support of bridge repair/replacement for about a month. Only a private, nonprofit advocacy campaign that lasts decades which supports visionary governance can bring this strategic transformation to fruition. It was heartening to learn that a coalition is being formed to do just that.
A well supported coalition is not just a way, but the only means to drive an effort of this magnitude. If Arizona is ever going to move on from the light-weight, small effort – small results of 40 years of STEM education advocacy we have to ramp up to the level of our transformation effort. The transportation industry is rife with high tech means to drive economic development. Maybe their model can be used for applying high tech means to STEM education, training and manpower development.
Their driving slogan is, “Local Jobs, Global Markets. “ Maybe STEM’s could be, “Local Learning, Global Opportunity. There are other historical similarities between STEM driven Transportation System and STEM Education system.
Arizona’s transportation transformation started with Juan Batista De Anza bringing a group of colonists up from Tubac through the Tucson area to the Gila River and on to Yuma and California in 1776. This established highway routes for I19, and part of I10 and I8 to the west. In 1846 the Army of the West lead by Phillip St. George Cook, that included the Mormon Battalion, came into Arizona from what is now southwest New Mexico and through Tucson establishing the eastern route for I10 in 1846.
Formal public and private education came along a century later than De Anza. But we now know what must be done to build an modern education highway that will curtail the current 30% loss of drivers that enter the onramp, or another 40% that never get to the end of their trip. If transportation can do it over the next 15 two year governance cycles, then so can STEM based education and job training.