about S. Mountain Freeway breeding hostility
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 1, 2006 01:40 PM
What began as a community meeting on the proposed South Mountain Freeway took a
hostile turn this week, as freeway opponents shouted at each other and audience
members catcalled and heckled Arizona Department of Transportation officials.
More than 150 people gathered in the auditorium of Kyrene de los Lagos
Elementary School Tuesday night for an ADOT presentation advertised to the
Lakewood HOA and Lagos communities.
The state wants a final decision on the long-delayed South Mountain Freeway by
late 2007, ADOT spokesman Matt Burdick told the group. The 22- to 26-mile route
would link Interstate 10 in the west and east, bypassing Phoenix.
the course of a brief presentation and in answers to public questions, ADOT
officials conceded that answers to many of the Ahwatukee community's most
pressing questions on the proposed freeway are still unavailable.
Negotiations with the Gila River Indian Community are ongoing, and the state
can't say with certainty when they'll rule out the option of moving the southern
leg of the freeway from Pecos Road to tribal lands.
No federal standards yet exist on mobile source air toxins - a form of
particulate pollution of great concern to many in Ahwatukee - and engineers
aren't sure how they'll address such emissions in their project.
The owners of 255 to 685 Ahwatukee homes are in limbo as debate continues on
whether the freeway will be built at ground level, below-grade or not at all.
On Tuesday, frustrations at the dearth of answers spilled over into anger, in
some cases directed at fellow freeway opponents.
After Burdick spoke, John D. Rodriguez of Lakewood took the microphone for a
prepared speech. The Lakewood HOA board elected Rodriguez in January to fill
Lakewood's long-vacant spot on the ADOT-led South Mountain Citizens Advisory
Though Rodriguez has been an outspoken proponent of the "no build"
option, a sea of placards from the anti-freeway group Protecting Arizona's
Resources and Children sprang up when he took the floor.
"The SMCAT meeting does not speak for the residents of Lakewood! The SMCAT
meeting is a sham!" called PARC founder Melanie Pai from the back of the
After delivering a 15-minute speech critical of ADOT and advocating the no-build
("For my Latino friends - No way, Jose"), Rodriguez took a shot at
Lagos principal Jim Strogen.
Strogen is also a member of the citizens advisory team, and has repeatedly said
that the freeway should be moved south of Pecos Road and farther from his
"Jim Strogen, my community goes to your school and pays your salary. If you
invite me and my community to a meeting, you're not going to shut us out,"
Rodriguez said shortly before Strogen attempted to end Rodriguez's monologue and
open the meeting to public questions.
He then pressed the principal to restate his stance on the freeway, prompting at
least one member of the audience to shout at Strogen, "Are you with us or
Rodriguez said after the meeting that he questioned Strogen because a number of
Lakewood residents were curious about the principal's position. He was also
under the impression that the meeting was going to be held in a different format
that gave more control to Lakewood.
After the meeting, Strogen seemed slightly baffled at the suddenly hostile
"My position all along has been, as principal of this school, I worry about
air pollution, noise pollution, traffic hazards, homes destroyed," Strogen
said. "All those things make me crazy. . . . I don't want it in my
The public question period got off to a rocky start when Strogen initially
insisted upon holding the microphone for PARC's Pai instead of handing it over
to her, prompting angry shouts from the crowd and a furious outburst from Pai.
"This is what happens! They don't want to give me the mic!" Pai said
before being handed the microphone.
She criticized ADOT for not working with health agencies to determine the
freeway's health impacts and the failure to address several studies that link
freeway pollution to negative health effects.
"This is a show! This is ridiculous. These people don't have to be
patronized like this!" she said before stepping down.
After that, nearly every answer from ADOT was met with heckles from the crowd.
Some expressed frustration over the lack of solid air pollution data and firm
answers for homeowners who aren't sure if or when their property will be taken.
Others called "This is our time!" and "You're fired!" at
engineers and consultants who stepped up to answer audience members' questions.
Consultant Amy Edwards' assertion that only 10 percent of the anticipated
160,000 vehicles per day the freeway is expected to serve would be truck traffic
was met with "That's baloney!" and "A lot of bull!"
Lakewood resident Joe Debbins suggested that state and regional transportation
planners switch their focus from freeways to rail. PARC member Julie Light said
she was worried about potential hazardous material spills near schools from
trucks on the freeway. Ahwatukee's unique geography made the area more
vulnerable to pollutant hazards, she said.
"It's different here. It's not the same as in Chandler or Gilbert. It's
flat there," she said.
Pai said after the meeting that she was disappointed in the state's planning
"These people (in the community) don't have a real voice anyway," she
said. "They've been crying no build for years, and no one's