community defends stance on freeway location
ADOT, tribe at
crossroads on Loop 202
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 1, 2005 12:00 AM
255 homes threatened by the proposed South Mountain Freeway, many in Ahwatukee
Foothills are anxiously peering across Pecos Road to see if the Gila River
Indian Community will agree to place the freeway on reservation land.
The Gila nation, which has been involved in freeway discussions for about 20
years, is less than enthusiastic.
Residents and officials hoping to reach an agreement have pointed to the example
of Loop 101 in Scottsdale, which was moved onto Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian
Community land after long and sometimes contentious negotiations.
The Gila community is
also now lobbying the state for a wider Interstate 10 through their nearly
In public meetings, Ahwatukee residents have pressured the Arizona Department of
Transportation to make the tribe a monetary offer to move negotiations forward
on Loop 202.
The possibility for discussion still remains. However, in recent interviews Gila
nation members stressed that they are as attached to their community, which has
existed since the mid-1800s, as Ahwatukee residents are to theirs.
"The people of the (Gila River) community have a strong tie to the
community, and that goes back to our ancestors," said Gary Bohnee,
spokesman for the Gila River Indian Community. "All of (the development in
Ahwatukee) has occurred within the last 20 years. The time frame we're talking
for the community is many, many more times than that."
The tribe's concerns about a freeway are similar to Ahwatukee's, said Cecil
Antone, lieutenant governor from 1994 to 2000 and the current director of water
"Along with the freeway comes noise, and of course the air's not getting
cleaner out here," he said.
In reference to past talks with the state that failed, Antone said, "They
(the state) had blown an opportunity way back when, and I don't feel like it
will come back."
Since the freeway was first proposed in 1985, the Gila River Indian Community
has on multiple occasions approached ADOT and the Maricopa Association of
Governments to request that the highway be moved south from Pecos Road to their
land. Repeatedly, they were rebuffed.
In the late 1980s, tribal officials presented MAG with a plan to place the
freeway's southern leg along Queen Creek Road. According to the tribe's
estimates, the Queen Creek route would have been at least $57 million cheaper
than the Pecos alignment. MAG said no, saying the road would be too far from
"Pecos Road at that time was what people wanted to keep," said MAG
Executive Director Dennis Smith, who was then part of the freeway planning
process. "The closer you (are) to the urban area, the more travel would be
on the facility." He also said the tribe initially rejected an offer to put
the freeway on its land in the earliest stages of its design.
Some believed that the decision to keep the freeway on Pecos was discriminatory.
In 1989, the tribe filed a civil rights complaint against MAG and ADOT with the
U.S. government, charging that the reservation route was denied for racial and
political reasons. Both agencies were cleared of any wrongdoing.
In the mid-1990s, the Gila River community supported a plan to build the freeway
as a toll road on its land. That proposal was yanked after public opposition and
"I think after that they (members of the reservation's District 6, the
jurisdiction that would absorb the freeway) just said forget it," said
Antone. In 2001, the Gila River Indian Community passed a resolution prohibiting
study of the freeway on its land. After four years of discussions with ADOT, the
community has not deviated from its stance. Until the Gila River community
allows a study, ADOT can't make the tribe an offer, spokesman Matt Burdick said.
That position has frustrated many in Ahwatukee.
An ADOT presentation last week drew more than 2,000 residents almost universally
opposed to the freeway. In spoken and written public comments, residents
suggested boycotting Gila River's casinos, exercising eminent domain or denying
on-ramps on the reservation's side of the freeway if the Indians don't agree to
Indian reservations are sovereign nations, where eminent domain laws do not
apply. Denying a community access to a freeway is a violation of federal law.