To fix it, shelve the South Mountain freeway and try something unique -
an actual plan
Apr. 16, 2006 12:00 AM
Now let me get this straight: The cost of the
proposed South Mountain Freeway has doubled in four years, to a record $2
billion. Yet the state intends to build the road anyway.
In exchange, drivers will get a freeway built on the cheap, to "shave
costs." That means pushing many costs into the future, of course, as cut
corners must eventually be made right. (Have you checked the mess of Loop 101 in
And everyone in the metro area will pay for the $2 billion freeway by seeing
other projects pared back as this skyrocketing price is exacted out of a finite
fund for transportation.
Such a draconian outcome must mean this freeway
is needed to serve a densely populated part of the region. In fact, this is a
connector between suburban Ahwatukee and the rapidly disappearing farms of
southwest Phoenix. It's deeply unpopular with many residents.
It is, however, popular with land speculators, and thus is going to be built.
Arizona leaders spent years avoiding the hippy-dippy economic strategies that
have ruined the economies of leftist states such as North Carolina. Yet the way
things are done in Arizona creates its own "industrial policy,"
ruthlessly picking winners and losers.
Arizona uses cheap land, few restrictions and public funding for infrastructure
to make the growth machine rich. Cities and towns play along, greedy for sales
taxes and development fees.
Aside from some private fortunes, the consequences have often been unfortunate.
Everywhere there's a disconnect between development and everything else,
including transportation. Coherent planning is a joke.
Thus, Pinal County spreads out with tract houses while commuters wait on farm
roads. Interstate 17 north of Phoenix remains a rural highway from the 1960s.
The gridlock on Interstate 10 in the West Valley extends beyond rush hours.
And, apparently, the South Mountain Freeway will be built even if it eats
everybody else's road projects.
The most amazing thing about the mess is the utter lack of creativity.
Here we are, in the 21st century, armed with sobering facts about the direction
of energy prices and temperatures, and Phoenix's peculiar vulnerability to them.
And we're basing our plans on thinking and arrangements from the late 1950s.
That was when the first map of Phoenix's freeway system was proposed, and in the
1980s and 1990s that map was pretty much built.
A boomlet to stop it failed, because 20th-century America could imagine no
future without the car and sprawl.
My neighborhood lost thousands of historic houses. The alignment apparently
couldn't be changed by two blocks, and the powers that lived in Arcadia and
Paradise Valley didn't care.
Those freeways opened up a suburban land rush that continues to destabilize
older areas. With no meaningful zoning or preservation of farmland, we lost most
of the citrus groves and agricultural fields that helped cool the city.
And for all this, we get worse congestion every day. This was known even in
1959. The freeways started in the 1930s by Robert Moses in New York City, often
rammed through longstanding neighborhoods with catastrophic results, actually
generated more traffic.
You would think these experiences would lead to a chastened and careful
reassessment, even without the added incentives of global warming and a new
It's not that freeways are always inappropriate. It's just that they can't solve
our total needs for the future. And they sure can't do this when transportation
is totally divorced from what actually happens in development.
What should be done?
• Kill the South Mountain Freeway.
• Connect Ahwatukee to the central city with either light rail or
• Link West Valley cities to the rest of the region with commuter rail.
• Re-establish train service between Phoenix and Tucson in preparation
for a bullet-train project.
• Upgrade bus service on the busiest or most promising routes.
• Put a moratorium on all new sprawl residential development until
comprehensive plans can be drawn up to provide transportation and pay for it.
• Require all transportation projects to have multimodal components. For
example, light rail running along a freeway route.
a consortium for 21st-century transportation research and implementation that
would make Arizona a leader in new technologies and approaches.
The develo-Luddites will scream that this would
kill the economy. No, it would create a boom of new opportunities and much
better quality of life for people who actually live here.
By focusing growth on existing areas, the plan will have the added benefit of
helping to manage our water reserves.
A crazy plan that will never happen, you say? It may never happen. But the real
insanity is the status quo: doing the same thing, hoping for a different result.
Reach Talton at email@example.com.
Read Talton's blog at www.taltonblog.azcentral.com.