202 route debate needs to be public
Apr. 21, 2005 12:00 AM
members of the South Mountain Citizen Advisory Team have asked the Arizona
Department of Transportation to allow them to meet privately to hash out
thoughts on alternative routes for the last leg of Loop 202.
Planning maps for 20 years have shown a possible South Mountain Freeway starting
at Interstate 10 and Pecos Road, running west past Ahwatukee Foothills to 51st
Avenue, then angling northwest around South Mountain to hook up again with I-10
in the West Valley.
The advisory team, made up of 24 people representing such diverse interests as
Ahwatukee, Laveen, Tolleson, Avondale, the Gila River Indian Community, United
Dairymen of Arizona and Sierra Club, has been meeting since 2001.
For the first two years, occasional meetings were held privately as ADOT
provided information to the group.
When it got down to serious business and started holding monthly meetings, ADOT
opened the meetings.
"As time went on we felt more and more uncomfortable about the process as
far as having closed meetings," said Matt Burdick, an ADOT spokesman.
Although the citizen team has no decision-making authority, Burdick said ADOT
did not want even the perception of decisions being made behind closed doors.
We agree wholeheartedly.
It's understandable that the South Mountain Citizen Advisory Team might want to
discuss some items outside the supercharged atmosphere of public attention. But
at the same time, holding a closed meeting does nothing to lessen the public's
concern about whatever decisions are made.
ADOT was wise to open the meetings in 2003 when they decided "it was in
everyone's best interest to let the public attend," according to Burdick.
The public has not exactly attended in droves. The locations of the meetings can
be an hour's drive, easily, even to people living near the proposed alignment of
the freeway. Reporters have covered the meetings, giving readers an opportunity
to decide whether the ongoing discussions are interesting enough to drive to,
say, Komatke, on a Thursday evening.
It seems the reporters are the reason at least one team member wants the
Ron Chohamin, an advisory team member and vice president of the Lakewood
Community Association of Ahwatukee, said open meetings are for the public to
"It was not particularly meant to be open for journalistic
adventures," he told Republic reporter Nedra Lindsey.
We have in the past applauded the members of the advisory team for hanging in
there so long on this project, and we continue to applaud their
civic-mindedness. But the project is bigger than any one faction, and the public
needs to have a real opportunity to know what's going on. We contend that
sending reporters to cover out-of-the-way meetings is a good way to keep the
The team's recommendation will be included in the Arizona Department of
Transportation's environmental impact study. That study must be approved by the
Federal Highway Administration to get funding for the last leg of Loop 202.
Planning on the $1 billion project was put on hold nearly a decade ago. Last
November's passage of Proposition 400 included funding for the six-lane, 22-mile
Regardless of whether the team members are allowed to air their thoughts in a
private session, they will not take action behind a closed door, Burdick said.
"Our opinion is whatever input they're giving us, what the citizen team
recommends to us, that has to be made in a public setting," he said.
Again, we agree.