Citizen panel vital to plans for Loop 202
The Arizona Republic, 7/2/04
There's an expression comparing government decision making to stuffing sausages, the sentiment being that you really don't want to watch the process.
But in this country we're encouraged to. And oftentimes we need to. In the checks and balances of decisions that involve money and property rights, citizen oversight is crucial, especially in long-range projects such as freeways, which affect a broad swath of residents and business owners.
Citizen involvement sometimes requires a long-term commitment, such as for the people who have been serving the past 2 1/2 years on the South Mountain Citizen Advisory Team. They meet monthly with Arizona Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration and Maricopa Association of Governments officials to discuss the status of plans for the South Mountain leg of Loop 202, the only piece of the Loop as yet unplanned and unfunded.
The Citizen Advisory Team includes representatives from the villages of Ahwatukee Foothills, Laveen and South Mountain, the cities of Avondale and Tolleson and the Gila River Indian Community. In all, 24 groups are represented.
Last week, the Citizen Advisory Team and other interested residents met at Laveen Elementary School for the monthly session.
You have to applaud their fortitude. The thermostat in the old building was set on a sweltering, summer-break temperature level and locked behind a plastic cover. The hardwood floor echoed every twitch of a foot or scrape of a chair, making it hard to hear speakers. The nearest open bathroom was a quarter-mile away across ballfields where people had to dodge kids practice-pitching. .
And just when the heat in the meeting room had people weighing whether they needed a drink of water badly enough to risk another trek to the bathroom, a burglar alarm next door sent out a piercing noise that could not be ignored.
Yet the people attended, participated and hung in there to share in the process.
The South Mountain leg of Loop 202 has created controversy on both sides of the Ahwatukee/Gila Community land. Ahwatukee Foothills residents who bought homes within spitting distance of Pecos Road say it's no place for a freeway. Some residents question what all that traffic will do to their air quality. On the Gila side, although some indications are that the tribe is considering it, Lt. Gov. Mary Thomas made it clear at the meeting that no agreement has been forged about allowing a freeway on tribal land.
There's controversy at the western end of the freeway route, also. One of three routes under consideration would travel north along 99th Avenue. Officials from Tolleson and Avondale are vehement in their opposition to this plan. Luckily for them, officials from Phoenix, the 900-pound gorilla in the mix, also would like the alignment farther east, around 55th Avenue.
But the process is far from over. We have a few years, an environmental impact study and many more public meetings ahead of us.
In the end, some will be happy, others unhappy.
But the only ones with room to complain will be those who participated.