not muzzled on freeway
Mar. 2, 2006 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
The South Mountain Citizens Advisory Team hit
another publicity snag last week when its Sierra Club representative withdrew.
Michelle Pulich Stewart said her reason for quitting was the lack of public
input allowed by the Arizona Department of Transportation.
Although that's not entirely accurate - more on that later - the public
perception of openness is critical to this process. The citizens team is charged
with studying aspects of the South Mountain leg of Loop 202 and advising ADOT on
whether and where to build the freeway. Until recently, comments by people not
on the team were read at the end of the meetings. ADOT ended that practice
because the meetings ran too late.
By seeming to undermine that public input process and muzzle the audience, ADOT
gave the Sierra Club an opportunity to posture about building the freeway. Yet
it's hard to imagine a freeway that the Sierra Club would approve, as its
mission is to protect the environment above all else. Advocating for mass
transportation and conservation are more in line with the Sierra Club than
building another stretch of freeway.
But the issue on the table at the citizens team
meetings is a freeway connecting Interstate 10 at Pecos Road with I-10 in west
Phoenix. While it's true that ADOT recently announced the team would not listen
to public comments at the end of their meetings, citizens are still encouraged
to submit their questions in writing. Those questions are then answered on the
team's Web site or at the next meeting.
Why the change? It's a matter of logistics. The team was being kept late to hear
what amounted to soliloquies and rants from repetitive sources against the
freeway. Written comments were often long, rambling statements rather than
pertinent questions. Some audience members refused to behave within civil
boundaries and made catcalls that disrupted meetings. Meetings were digressing
out of control. These people knew how to use and abuse the public input process.
The volunteers on the team deserve better than that. They have been donating
their time and energy for as long as four years toward the goal of advising ADOT
on the South Mountain leg of Loop 202.
It should be clear to everyone in this Valley by now that there are many people
in Ahwatukee Foothills who do not want the Loop 202 to run along Pecos Road.
Their reasons - noise, traffic, pollution, unsightliness, possible crime avenue
- have been cited and documented. We've got the message. ADOT's got it. And most
certainly, the unpaid volunteers of the South Mountain Citizens Advisory Team
have got it.
But the team members still need to hear other information, such as what the
people in Tolleson, Avondale and west Phoenix need and want in the freeway. They
need to assimilate stacks of information and make a recommendation to ADOT.
They need to be allowed to focus on that task rather than listen - again and
again - to the people who have fully made the point that they do not want this