The Arizona Republic, 9/27/04
The South Mountain Freeway might better have been named Freeway Phoenix.
Like the mythical bird reborn from its own ashes, the final link of Loop 202 died twice, only to be brought back to life because of the role it could play in diverting interstate traffic around the central Valley.
Running west from Interstate 10 near Chandler, it wraps around South Mountain, then turns north to connect with I-10 in far west Phoenix. It is one of four freeways the Regional Transportation Plan proposes building over 20 years if voters approve Proposition 400 on Nov. 2.
The Valley's 1985 freeway tax will have built 147 miles of metro freeways
by the time Loop 202's Santan and Red Mountain freeways are finished in
2007. The new plan adds about 78 miles. Two of the four new routes were part
of the Valley's 1985 plan but were scratched when tax revenues ran short.
"Just with the growth that's coming, I can't imagine what it'll be like without the new freeways," said Helen McCready, 43, a Peoria marketer and casting agent who plans to vote for Proposition 400. "What will happen to all these people trying to get around?"
That's precisely why West Valley leaders fought hard for two of the new freeways in the plan, Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs said.
Rapid growth is clogging freeways and streets on the Valley's west side, she said, and "every single addition to the freeway network will help relieve congestion somewhere."
The South Mountain Freeway was axed in the mid-1990s, but private investors revived it as a toll road. That, too, was scrapped in 1998 when the financing didn't pan out.
Now it's back in the tax-paid plan at a cost of $1 billion instead of the $360 million cited a decade ago. Though its precise route is still being studied, it would be built in the early years of the new freeway plan.
Other new routes include:
• Williams Gateway Freeway reaching southeast from Loop 202 (Santan Freeway) to Ellsworth Road, then east to the Pinal County line at Meridian Road. Scheduled after 2015, the five-mile, $325 million freeway would skirt Williams Gateway Airport and link Maricopa County's freeway system to highways in the rapidly growing Pinal County communities.
• Loop 303, a 38-mile freeway stretching west and south from Interstate 17 near Carefree Highway to Grand Avenue north of Sun City West, then turning south for a run to I-10 near Cotton Lane. Eventually, it would be extended south several miles to a reliever freeway planned parallel to and south of I-10. Loop 303 was in the 1985 plan but fell out when money was short. Portions of it exist as a parkway, but Peoria, Surprise and Goodyear consider the full freeway vital to coping with explosive growth and linking new development to the Valley's freeway system.
• A 13-mile I-10 reliever freeway running parallel to, and several miles south of, I-10. The east-west freeway would link the South Mountain Freeway to Loop 303, completing a Phoenix bypass for through-traffic on I-10 to skirt the inner-city freeways. Planners also expect it to ease I-10 congestion in the West Valley, offering an alternate into the city when the southwest Valley's population booms. Building would not start until after 2020. Right of way to extend it to Arizona 85 would be purchased, with a two-lane road built there in the interim. The project's total cost: $805 million.
Scruggs calls the reliever "the most forward-thinking part of the plan. It's planning ahead for the growth that the southwest Valley already is experiencing."
For freeway regulars like McCready, anything to relieve the snarls is welcome. McCready recalled struggling behind the wheel during an eight-week period this year when she was driving daily to Mesa to do casting work for a film shot there.
"Traffic was just horrible," she said. "By the time you're done, you have road rage."