group raises air-quality questions
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 25, 2006 12:00 AM
When it comes to clean air, some
involved in planning the South Mountain Freeway are starting to question whether
meeting the minimum standards is still good enough.
At Thursday's meeting of the South Mountain Citizens Advisory Team, state and
regional engineers said no data so far indicate that the proposed Phoenix bypass
would push the area over acceptable limits for the most-harmful air pollutants.
But citing concern for schools close to the proposed 22- to 26-mile route, and
the thickening brown cloud hanging over their homes, some in the volunteer
citizens group wondered whether Arizona should use this project to set a new and
The air-quality worries come amid the Valley's
worst air-pollution season in years, with record drought and multiple days in
violation of federal pollution standards.
The freeway would complete Loop 202 and connect Interstate 10 in the west and
east, circumventing central Phoenix. Building could begin as early as 2009.
According to the Arizona Department of Transportation and the Maricopa
Association of Governments, the Valley will continue to meet federal standards
on carbon monoxide, ozone and particulates 10 microns or less in size even if
the South Mountain Freeway is built.
By the South Mountain Freeway's scheduled completion in 2015, there will be
134.1 million vehicle miles traveled per day in the Valley. However,
emission-reduction technologies are improving faster than new cars are getting
on the road, said Lindy Bauer, MAG's environmental director.
However, MAG is not required by the Environmental Protection Agency to plan for
particulates of 2.5 microns or less in size, also known as PM 2.5.
Most particulates that come out of car tailpipes are PM 2.5, meaning they are
small enough to travel into the lungs and the bloodstream when inhaled, said
Cathy Arthur, MAG's air-quality modeling program manager.
A 1999 MAG study also revealed that most of the Valley's infamous brown cloud is
composed of PM 2.5.
The proximity of several schools to the proposed freeway route, and the
attending vehicle emissions, has several on the advisory team worried.
"It's a deadly issue," said John Rodriguez, a representative from
Ahwatukee Foothills. "They need to bring in medical experts."
Some pointed to a June 2005 settlement between the Sierra Club and the Federal
Highway Administration in which the government agreed to install air filters and
relocate some classrooms and a playground to lessen children's exposure to
emissions from a Las Vegas freeway.
Federal highway officials said then and now that the ruling does not set a
precedent. However, federal officials in Phoenix said Thursday they will bring
in experts to discuss new findings on pollutants.
Reach the reporter at corinne .firstname.lastname@example.org
or (602) 444-7801.