The Arizona Republic
Feb. 3, 2005 12:00 AM
You've got to applaud the members of the South Mountain Citizen Advisory Team. They've hung in there for four years, meeting monthly to discuss details of the future South Mountain leg of Loop 202 as a three-year environmental impact study stretched beyond its time.
But with the passage in November of Proposition 400, which will fund the freeway running along the south edge of Ahwatukee Foothills into the West Valley, the Arizona Department of Transportation seems to be cranking up the pace.
There has been a squeeze play going. The west side - Avondale, Tolleson and Laveen - is pressing for a decision, while Ahwatukee Foothills is stalling for time until and if the Gila River Indian Community can be persuaded to allow the freeway on its land.
It looks as though ADOT finally is acknowledging that a Gila
River Reservation alignment is not in play. Now it's down to the
nitty-gritty: How many homes near Pecos Road will be impacted, how
many businesses? Will a church be razed for a six-lane freeway to
carry truckers from Interstate 10 east of Phoenix to Interstate 10
Matt Burdick, an ADOT spokesman, said community meetings in different areas along the possible path have elicited different sentiments. And though some still hope for a green light from the tribe, the years are wearing people down.
"A lot of the comments were, 'Speed up the study, move on. If you're going to build something, speed up the action,' " Burdick told the citizen advisory group last week at a meeting in Komatke, south of Laveen.
It's interesting to note that the monthly meetings are held on the Gila River Reservation. The community has members on the team but has yet to say whether the freeway can run on its land. Tribal leaders are not being coy; there are many factions who need to reach agreement to do anything along that stretch. There are landowners, as well as district council members, whose agreement is required. So far, evidently, that agreement simply isn't there.
At last week's meeting, Chris Clary-Lemon, a transportation engineer with consulting firm HDR, said there are three things happening simultaneously.
"We are progressing forward with the Pecos Road alternative. We are also continuing our conversations with GRIC. Finally, the 'no action' alternative, not just on the east side but the entire leg, is still being looked at," he said.
A map distributed at the meeting shows three alternate links to I-10 on the west side, but only the Pecos Road route on the east. An inset box reads, "At this time, ADOT is involved in ongoing coordination efforts with the Gila River Indian Community regarding potential alternatives on their land."
The map also shows potential interchange locations, necessary to complete the environmental impact study. Across Ahwatukee, those sites are 40th, 32nd and 24th streets; Desert Foothills Parkway, and 17th and 25th avenues.
That could be bad news for Mountain Park Community Church, which is in the right of way at 24th Street.
Shannon Wilhelmsen, an ADOT spokeswoman, reminded the group and the public in the audience that the streets have been chosen for study purposes only, and no decisions have been made. But ADOT's need to reach a decision is becoming pressing.
"The agency has decided to go forward with the draft Environmental Impact Study and work on an aggressive schedule for the next year," Wilhelmsen said.
Citizen team members got the message.
"Somebody built a fire," Ron Chohamin said after the meeting. He serves on the team as an Ahwatukee resident and vice president of the Lakewood homeowners association.
"It may be political, and it's just gone on too long," he said. "It may be time to send a wakeup call to GRIC."