MAG at 50: Five Decades of Serving the Region
Friday, March 31, 2017
Posted by: Bridgette Blair
April 12, 2017, will mark 50 years that the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) has been serving the region. MAG is a group of local governments working together on issues that touch the lives of every resident, including such areas as transportation, air quality, economic development, and programs that meet the human needs of the region. But how did it all begin?
MAG was created in the wake of several events requiring regional cooperation. In 1960, Wilbur Smith and Associates completed the Major Street and Highway Plan for the Phoenix area. The 1962 Federal Aid Highway Act required regional transportation planning, resulting in the Valley Area Traffic and Transportation Study in 1965. By 1967, it was clear a full-fledged regional agency was needed.
Some local governments were concerned about maintaining local control. MAG Secretary Jack DeBolske, the founder of MAG, assured nervous elected officials that “the proposed association will not take the place of any local government” and that the association was “voluntary and advisory.” To address concerns, MAG was initially set up as part of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns. It would not become a separate agency until 1996.
“One of the founding principles of the League was that the unit of government closest to the people needs to make regional decisions,” recalls current Executive Director Dennis Smith, who began his MAG service in 1976. “That philosophy continues today.”
MAG was formed in 1967 by concurrent resolutions from its member agencies. The first Regional Council meeting was called to order on April 12, 1967. Scottsdale Mayor B.L. “Bud” Tims, MAG’s first chair, indicated that there were “many areas of common interest and concern to Valley cities” in the metropolitan area, including “matters of water, air pollution and solid waste disposal.”
During the next four decades, the agency would see many triumphs. These included the passage of Proposition 300 in 1985 implementing the half-cent sales tax for transportation, as well as the subsequent passage of Proposition 400 in 2004 extending the tax to continue building a multimodal system. Since the inception of MAG and working with the Arizona Department of Transportation, 181 centerline miles of freeway have been completed in the region. In addition, working with Valley Metro, the region has implemented 26 miles of light rail and 100 bus routes
Another key MAG mission is improving air quality. MAG was designated by the governor in 1978 to serve as the Regional Air Quality Planning Agency. Within this role, MAG develops air quality plans required by the Clean Air Act to reduce carbon monoxide, ozone and particulate pollution. MAG works with its member agencies and the state to implement a wide variety of control measures to address air pollution.
MAG began its role in protecting vulnerable populations nearly from its creation, formalizing its first human services planning office in 1980. MAG continues to champion many efforts aimed at strengthening communities and supporting people. These include keeping people safe from domestic violence, ensuring they have access to homeless services, and helping them remain connected with their communities at every age.
“I just can’t say enough about what an important contribution the convening function of MAG and the leadership function has been in some of the most thorny areas we’ve had to confront, air quality and transportation being right there at the top, and human services very, very important,” states former Phoenix Mayor Terry Goddard, who chaired MAG from 1986-1988.
Another MAG-led program that forever changed lives in the Valley was the creation of a regional 9-1-1 system. Many said it couldn’t be done. But MAG worked with the Corporation Commission to identify funding, and with technical expertise from police and fire officials, the system went live September 9, 1985.
In 2010, MAG created an Economic Development Committee following the economic tailspin that began in 2008. With transportation serving as a backbone for the economy, MAG recognized that it had a role to play in bringing the best minds to the table to brainstorm solutions for diversifying the economy. The EDC includes local elected officials, business, and education representatives, as well as a representative from ADOT.
To assist in its planning role, MAG conducts extensive applied research to strengthen the region. MAG collects a wide variety of information, ranging from population and demographic information to highly detailed trends in travel behavior. MAG analyzes the information and creates online maps that can be used by city planners or the public. Other MAG functions include safety planning and public outreach.
“The history of MAG is unlike anything else,” says former Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs, who chaired MAG from 1996-1998. “I don’t think you can find it replicated anywhere else in this country. It is truly unique and it keeps getting better,” she says.
“While MAG has evolved greatly over its 50-year history, it is fascinating to see how many of the main tenets of the first Regional Council are still in practice today,” notes Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, current MAG Chair. “It is vital that we continue to make decisions that improve the lives of the residents of the region because–if past is prologue–we know our decisions will have lasting impacts for future generations.”
From now until June, MAG is rolling out a series of videos documenting the 50-year history. They will be available as they are released at YouTube.com/MAGcommunications.