Foothills residents turned out by the hundreds Thursday to get the facts and
air their feelings on the proposed South Mountain Freeway.
After seeing the maps and hearing the presentations, community members seemed
to have one message for the Arizona Department of Transportation: Not in our
"I just plain don't want it," said Daniel Thompson, who wore a
T-shirt printed with "South Mountain 202" inside a red circle with a
line crossed through it.
than 500 people showed up within the first two hours of the daylong open house
hosted by ADOT at the Grace Inn. Attendees started pouring into the meeting
hall even before the scheduled start time of noon. Two similar meetings
earlier in the week in Avondale and Laveen had a combined total attendance of
Many took time off work to attend. Corners of the room had the look of a
neighborhood block party, as clusters of residents from neighborhoods
bordering the future route greeted one another and discussed their concerns.
Tempers and voices rose as residents disparaged the Pecos Road alignment to
ADOT officials and each other. Two deputies from the Maricopa County Sheriff's
Office were on hand to keep an eye on the crowd in case things got heated,
said Sgt. Dave Norton of Phoenix police.
Comments written on index cards tacked to a bulletin board ranged from
desperate ("Please do not kill the nice neighborhood we live in!")
to hostile ("Take this freeway and shove it!") to the downright
"The more people the better," said Mike Bruder, project manager for
"The freeway building process is personal and emotional for a lot of
Residents' arguments against the freeway ranged from concerns about pollution
to the possibility of increased crime to its proximity to schools along Pecos.
Spread across tables were giant aerial photographs with the proposed route
along Pecos Road drawn in. The reality of the freeway's possible location drew
ire from residents who found their homes in or next to the planned highway.
"I'll never be able to open my windows again or sit on my patio,"
said Sharon Kumnick, who moved into a new condominium at 12th Avenue and
Liberty Lane in March 2003.
As currently designed, the freeway would claim up to 255 existing and planned
homes in Ahwatukee, some of which are currently priced in the range of
$500,000 and up.
Though the potential alignment has been on the books since 1985 - longer than
most of the homes in this quiet corner of Phoenix have existed - residents
said that the impact of the freeway on today's Ahwatukee is great enough to
justify changing the plans.
"We have taken 20 years to build this community," said Brian Smith.
"To have this atmosphere we have built is precious. Just because it was
proposed for 20 years doesn't mean we have to do it."
A freeway, several said, could destroy the unique, isolated feel of the area
that many moved to Ahwatukee specifically to enjoy.
"What's going to happen with no panoramic view?" said Julie Verrill,
who lives near 40th Street and Pecos. "People aren't just going to lose
their homes, but could lose the reason they want to be here."
Rock Argabright, a member of the Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce and
the South Mountain Citizens Advisory Team, took issue with those who said they
didn't know the freeway would affect them.
"It's surprising that people would be 'shocked' when we've been talking
about this since 1987," he said.
Jesse Mietus of Club West said he feared that losing Pecos to a freeway would
bring deadly amounts of traffic to Ahwatukee's streets.
"The trucks, the cars are going to be killing our kids," he said.
"If they take (Pecos) away I'm going to be scared to live there."
Frustration at stalled negotiations with the Gila River Indian Community was
pervasive. Since the most recent study of the freeway began, the community has
not consented to study of a route on their land.
"If you need money to pay the high price of building on the Indian land,
raise my taxes," Mietus said. "Raise my taxes, but do not build a
freeway on Pecos Road."
There was also concern about the impact on property values. ADOT pays fair
market value and relocation expenses for homes in the freeway's path.
For homes near a freeway, studies have shown that the appreciation rate slows
during construction, said Jack Allen of HDR, Inc., a consultant working with
ADOT. Once the freeway is built, research is split on whether rates return to
normal or stay slow, he said.
Overwhelmingly, residents said that the Ahwatukee community would not use the
freeway. Few were buying ADOT's assertion that the freeway is intended as a
traffic reliever for Interstate 10 and not solely as a bypass for truck
"I don't see any reason why I would need to get to that area (the West
Valley)," said Teri Pinkstaff. "If it went downtown, it would make
A final decision on the freeway's location is not due until 2007. Until then,
residents said they would continue to fight.
"Anybody who's an elected official in office if this goes through, vote
'em out," said Jeff Ludwig.
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