route blasted as threat to lifestyle
ask politicos to weigh in
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 8, 2005 12:00 AM
was a beautiful autumn day in Ahwatukee Foothills. The Sunday afternoon sun was
setting, casting a golden glow over a park ringed by shimmering man-made lakes
and attractive homes. Children played on a nearby jungle gym. South Mountain
rose above the palm trees and red-tile rooftops.
And in the middle was a group of residents furious over a freeway they believe
could threaten that tranquility.
Sunday marked the first meeting of Protecting Arizona's Resources and Children,
a protest group formed of local residents opposed to the proposed South Mountain
are circulating petitions against the highway to present to Gov. Janet
Napolitano, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, state representatives and the Maricopa
Association of Governments. Within the first 24 hours of the petition drive,
they had collected 250 signatures.
The group's founder, Melanie Pai, said she has never become involved in a civic
issue before. But the freeway and its proximity to schools along Pecos Road was
more than the mother of two could stomach.
"I work a 60-hour work week like everybody else . . . (but) how can you not
make time for this?" Pai said as residents walked away with handfuls of
petitions to circulate among neighbors. "No one's got eminent domain on my
The South Mountain Freeway has drawn a groundswell of opposition never before
seen in this quiet section of Phoenix, where residents wear the "world's
largest cul-de-sac" nickname with pride and block parties are more common
To its opponents, the freeway threatens the qualities of Ahwatukee that
residents value most: Its beauty, its quiet isolation and a reputation as a
haven for families.
Those calling for the long-delayed freeway's construction, in Ahwatukee and
elsewhere in the Valley, have derided its opponents as members of a "not in
my back yard" crowd that would rather let the rest of the region sit in
traffic than mar their desert views.
Ahwatukee residents say outsiders can't understand.
"It just goes to the heart of why we're all here. Everybody worked hard
developing this community and they essentially turn around and blow it up by
putting a freeway through it," said Ed Wolin, who leapt on a table at an
open house last month to rally residents against the freeway. "I don't
think people understand this community. We're certainly not getting any
Opposition to the freeway in Ahwatukee has existed nearly as long as the freeway
plans themselves. The South Mountain Freeway was first introduced in 1985 - long
before most of the houses along Pecos Road were built - and approved by the
Maricopa Association of Governments in 1988. Those plans placed the southern leg
of Loop 202 along Pecos Road, north of the Gila River Reservation.
Citing concerns ranging from traffic, noise and pollution to the route's
proximity to the schools, multiple groups opposed to the Pecos Road alignment
have formed through the years. At least three anti-freeway T-shirt designs have
been printed, often serving as the uniform of choice for those who attend public
Since the October release of detailed plans showing the extent of the freeway's
impact on Ahwatukee, those eddies of opposition have coalesced into a tidal wave
of protest. At bars and in driveways, the freeway is increasingly the subject of
conversation. An open house last month hosted by the Arizona Department of
Transportation served as a mini-convention of neighbors and strangers concerned
about the project.
Many of them are ready to take their objections outside the cul-de-sac and into
decision-makers' offices. PARC, its founder said, wants lawmakers to come clean
with their position on the South Mountain Freeway.
"If they're going to say it's OK to destroy children's lungs (with freeway
pollution), I want them to put their name on it," Pai said.
In a voting block with a high turnout rate, Ahwatukee's pleas have already
reached some elected ears. U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth issued his official
opposition to the plan last month and Councilman Greg Stanton has long been an
outspoken critic of the Pecos alignment. Napolitano has yet to take a position
on the freeway, said her spokeswoman, Jeanine L'Ecuyer.
PARC and its members are hoping to change that. Ahwatukee, they say, depends on
"It's going to be a destruction of a lifestyle out here," longtime
resident Jim Jochim said of the project.
• Coming Friday: Residents who are tired of the arguments and
want to see the freeway built soon.