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Could the cities of Phoenix, pictured here, and Tucson actually merge by 2040? That’s the question raised by reporter Catherine Reagor of the Arizona Republic.

SALT LAKE CITY — Could the cities of Phoenix and Tucson actually merge by 2040?

That’s the question raised by reporter Catherine Reagor of the Arizona Republic. A recent look into census data shows that Maricopa County (which contains Phoenix and Mesa, Arizona) has grown faster than any other in the country for the second straight year, which might mean its population spread is dipping into Pima County, where Tuscon is located.

This could mean that the two cities — separated by 120 miles — could become one.

  • “Population projections for metro Phoenix could mean it will join with Tucson somewhere in Pinal County in about two decades if the numbers are right and the Valley's growth engine doesn't stall again,” according to the Arizona Republic.

This isn’t a new forecast. Close to 15 years ago urban researchers said there would be “super-sized” metro areas across the United States. One of those would be the Arizona Sun Corridor, which would run from Prescott, Arizona, all the way to Sierra Vista and the Mexico border.

Metro Phoenix has seen quite an increase with 4.86 million people living there now.

  • “Tucson and Prescott aren't growing as fast. But still the possibility of Arizona's growth corridor doubling in population in a decade doesn't seem unbelievable,” according to the Arizona Republic. “With that said, the formula for Arizona's population growth has been wrong before.”

As the Arizona Republic explains, forecasts for population growth hit a snag during the 2008 economic recession. And seeing these two cities merge would require Phoenix to keep growing and keeping housing prices low so people can afford them.

Yes, but: Merging cities doesn’t always make sense, according to Justin Marlow, a professor of public finance and civic engagement at the University of Washington.

Merging cities often leads to consolidated governments, Marlow wrote for Governing.com. In theory, this would allow cities to save money because “consolidation would form the larger population base needed to compete for state shared revenue, federal grants and other resources,” he wrote.

But that’s not always the case. “In almost all the consolidations though, the cities saw a merger as the last chance to transform their community for the better, even if the fiscal implications were unclear.”

And consolidations rarely save money. Oftentimes consolidation leads to higher taxes and spending.

  • “In fact, for the majority of citizens directly affected in these cases, consolidation has meant higher taxes and spending. Some cities consolidated because a larger government could improve local infrastructure. This has usually meant new debt and new taxes to repay that debt,” he wrote.

To the north: Regardless, the question of Phoenix and Tuscon merging into one metropolitan area will still exist for decades to come, according to the Deseret News. But the new data numbers come as the U.S. Census identified the St. George metro area as one of the fastest-growing areas in the country. Provo-Orem also saw a heavy increase, according to the Deseret News.

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Experts told the Deseret News that the growth of these two areas has created problems for the Beehive State.

  • "The growth is not what you would call boom growth or unmanageable growth. It's a moderate growth," Pamela Perlich, director of demographic research at the University of Utah's Kem C. Gardner Institute, told the Deseret News. "For the foreseeable future, Utah continues to be a place of economic and educational — and we would argue outdoor recreational — opportunity. And people are voting with their feet and moving here from all over the country and all over the world."