No freeway in park
Board unanimous on S. Mtn. alignment
Corinne Purtill and Ty Young
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 24, 2005 12:00 AM
Phoenix Parks and Recreation Board has voted unanimously against allowing the
proposed South Mountain Freeway to pass through South Mountain Park.
"There is no
ambiguity, no second guessing, that this is absolutely city policy,"
Councilman Greg Stanton said of the vote. "City policy is to support a
freeway alignment that doesn't go through South Mountain Park."
The board's decision Thursday makes official the city's opposition to the
freeway's presence on the western corner of South Mountain Park, which every
alignment proposed by the Arizona Department of Transportation cuts through.
Though the decision does not kill the South Mountain Freeway the decision
asserts the city's position on a crucial aspect of the hotly-contested freeway.
However, the freeway could still be built on the park if ADOT can't find any
other alternatives and the Maricopa Association of Governments decides it wants
to build the freeway there.
South Mountain Park also has some federal protections as a public recreation
The seven members who attended the parks meeting voted unanimously to pass a
resolution against routing the freeway through the park.
"We're not willing to give up sections of the park for non-park types of
issues," board member Phil Richards said. "There's probably other ways
to negotiate a regional bypass, and we want them to investigate and exhaust all
The original alignment of the South Mountain Freeway approved by MAG in 1988
connects Interstate 10 at 55th Avenue in the west and Pecos Road in the south,
running along the western edge of South Mountain Park.
The only other way to link the two portions would be on land owned by the Gila
River Indian Community.
Though ADOT has been in talks with the community, spokesman Gary Bohnee
reiterated Thursday that the community has not endorsed use of their land for
Without options on Gila River Reservation land, "our alternatives are, we
build it and end up impacting portions of the (South Mountain) Park, or we don't
build the South Mountain Freeway at all," ADOT spokesman Matt Burdick said.
The decision on whether to proceed with building the freeway is a regional one,
Burdick said. MAG, of which Phoenix is a member, will eventually decide if and
where to build the $1 billion freeway.
"At the end of the day, this is not a city of Phoenix decision,"
In the meantime, Ahwatukee residents heralded the committee's decision. Board
member Laura Bell, who also lives in Ahwatukee, said she received several calls
prior to Thursday's meeting from residents voicing adamant opposition to letting
the freeway pass through the park.
"That park has just a unique status to it as the Gila River Indian
Community has given to their property," said Laurel Arndt, a member of the
South Mountain Citizens Advisory Team.
Jeffery Rowe, 34, a longtime mountain biking enthusiast and manager of Cactus
Bike in Ahwatukee, also applauded the decision. "Phoenix keeps building
more streets, widening the roads and encroaching on what little open space we
have left," he said.
From an economic perspective, however, some wondered if the decision against the
regional bypass is best for the East Valley. Members of the East Valley
Partnership, a coalition of business, community, governmental and educational
leaders in the area, have supported the South Mountain freeway even if it meant
cutting into the preserves.
"I understand the parks board. They are basically environmentalists - and I
say that in the most positive way I can," said Roc Arnett, Partnership
president. "But at some point there has to be a decision for the public
Arnett and other freeway supporters envision heightened levels of business
traffic, ensuring a connection between the western and eastern regions of the
Still, others say there should be no price tag on the open space in the
Ahwatukee area, whether on the park or the Gila River Reservation. Despite the
new passage into the southeast Valley, Ahwatukee's charm would be sacrificed,
said Mike Dale, who has lived in Ahwatukee for a decade.
"It's the world's largest cul-de-sac. That's what I love about
Ahwatukee," he said. "Plowing through South Mountain or rebuilding
Pecos (Road) just changes the entire aura of the area for the worst."
Reporter Betty Beard also contributed to this