listens to freeway rumble
Pleas, applause dominate agenda at Foothills forum
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 24, 2006 12:00 AM
his Town Hall this week, U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth was the recipient of desperate
pleas and grateful applause from Ahwatukee Foothills residents who hope his
public stance against the proposed South Mountain Freeway will steer the pending
stream of cars away from their back yards.
Hayworth, a Republican, is one of few public officials to officially oppose the
freeway's construction. He said his long relationship with the Gila River Indian
Community could play a part in the final decision, with many Ahwatukee residents
wanting the freeway instead to be built on reservation land.
But ultimately, Hayworth admits, he is but one of many voices outside the inner
circle of decision-makers who will have the final say on where and if the
freeway is built.
"You'd be surprised how willing people are
to talk with me about this," Hayworth said. "Can I guarantee outcomes?
Of course not."
The former sportscaster turned congressman addressed a crowd of nearly 200
people in Desert Vista High School's cafeteria Wednesday night.
It was the last of five Town Halls in three days he held across Arizona's Fifth
Congressional District, which encompasses Ahwatukee to the west, Camp Creek to
the north and Tortilla Flats to the east.
Although Hayworth, 47, touched on a few other topics, including illegal
immigration, the freeway overwhelmingly was the primary concern for most
The proposed 22- to 26-mile highway would connect to Interstate 10 in the west
and east, bypassing Phoenix.
The Arizona Department of Transportation has proposed linking the southern leg
of the freeway along Pecos Road in Ahwatukee. The alignment could destroy as
many as 685 homes in Ahwatukee. In November, citing the negative effect the
freeway could have on Ahwatukee, Hayworth sent a letter to ADOT urging a
no-build of the freeway.
"We wanted pristine master-planned communities," freeway opponent Doug
Budner told Hayworth. "We like . . . the serenity of Ahwatukee, without the
crime rate and influx of undesirables" that a freeway might bring.
ADOT is currently in negotiations with the Gila River Indian Community about
possibly moving the southern leg of the freeway from Pecos Road to its land.
Hayworth said he has spoken informally with officials from the Gila River Indian
Community about the roadway.
The reservation used to be part of Hayworth's district before legislative
boundaries were redrawn in 2002. He has worked with the tribe on major issues
such as the landmark Water Rights Settlements Act of 2004 and the Federal
Insurance Contributions Act.
Gila River spokeswoman Jeri Thomas confirmed Thursday that Hayworth spoke with
tribal Gov. William Rhodes this month at a Republican function in Washington,
"The (Gila River) Community anticipates that it will have discussions with
Congressman Hayworth regarding the South Mountain Freeway," Thomas wrote in
In response to a question from Melanie Pai of the anti-freeway group Protecting
Arizona's Resources and Children, Hayworth said he had not considered proposing
legislation to regulate the proximity of freeways to schools.
"I haven't contemplated drawing up legislation that would micro-manage
things," he said.
He did offer to help place a representative from a major health organization on
the South Mountain Citizens Advisory Team, an ADOT-sponsored advisory panel.
Though the South Mountain Freeway will be funded in part by the Federal Highway
Administration, the final decision on whether to build the freeway lies with the
Maricopa Association of Governments, ADOT spokesman Matt Burdick said.
ADOT will "welcome input from the congressman," Burdick said, but the
ultimate veto power rests with MAG. That reality frustrated some of Hayworth's
constituents in attendance Wednesday.
"It just seems like he's giving a lot of false hope," Ahwatukee
resident Nick Collins said.