|The Arizona Republic, 10/4/03|
Freeway frustration vents at forum
Frustrations with the potential alignment of the South Mountain Freeway along Pecos Road nearly exploded at an Arizona Department of Transportation meeting designed to measure the public's pulse on the configuration of the freeway.
When transportation planners conceived the idea for the 12.3-mile freeway in 1988, traffic models told them to run a portion along Pecos Road, an idea that infuriated nearly all of the 200 Ahwatukee Foothills residents who attended Wednesday's forum at Desert Vista High School. "I see no 'pro' at all for anybody that lives in Ahwatukee," said Pete Dodge, 63.
John Godec, an ADOT consultant, explained that the department understands that the area has changed in 15 years and that's why, in 2001, it began a three-year, $6 million environmental impact study to determine if the project is still needed and, if so, where it should go.
But Pecos Road, according to Godec, remains the "only viable alternative." That's in part because negotiations with the Gila River Indian Community to move the freeway south onto tribal lands are going slowly. However, Godec said Gila River tribal leaders have agreed to share with ADOT engineers the results of three transportation studies the Indian Community commissioned several years ago. Two of those studies addressed the possibility of a toll road near the tribe's northern border.
Phoenix Vice Mayor Greg Stanton praised the Indian Community for taking what he called a "courageous" step in allowing ADOT access to its studies and reiterated the Phoenix City Council's opposition to a Pecos Road option. "Pecos Road is not appropriate for a freeway alignment," Stanton said.
While many in the vocal crowd appeared to be having a "Not in My Back Yard" reaction, a number questioned the need for the freeway, saying it would only serve as a bypass for commercial trucks to get around the congestion in downtown Phoenix. However, an ADOT study found that the freeway is still needed and would help alleviate increasing traffic pressures in the Valley. A study released this week by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University named Phoenix as the fifth-most congested city in the country.
The 20-year construction plan ranked the South Mountain Freeway as the lowest priority. It is now the only piece of the Loop 202 that is not completed, under construction or about to be built. Many in the crowd accused ADOT officials of having made up their minds to build the freeway where they choose. But State Rep. John Huppenthal, who represents the Ahwatukee Foothills area, encouraged residents to reserve judgment until they had more information, including the results of negotiations with Gila River tribal leaders. There is no firm timeline for ADOT officials to decide if the freeway should still be built and if so, where it should go, but Godec pledged more public forums.
The state transportation department sponsored two other events this week to get feedback about where the South Mountain Freeway should connect to Interstate 10 on the west side of Phoenix. Officials are studying five routes that would connect at either Loop 101, 71st Avenue or about 55th Avenue.