back S. Mountain Freeway
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 20, 2006 12:00 AM
East Valley mayors on Wednesday endorsed the proposed South Mountain Freeway,
calling it a "critical part of the regional freeway system."
Mesa Mayor Keno Hawker, Chandler Mayor Boyd Dunn and Gilbert Mayor Steve Berman
said in a joint statement that it is unfortunate that homes were built in the
right of way years ago but that the freeway is needed to reduce commute times.
"It's a key element in our regional transportation system and will
alleviate a lot of traffic on our arterial streets," Dunn said.
Interstate 10 has become gridlocked, he said, and
residents of Chandler, Gilbert and Pinal County are getting off the freeway and
using city streets to save time, resulting in accelerated wear and tear.
The proposed 22- to 26-mile freeway would link I-10 near Ahwatukee Foothills
with a yet-to-be determined point on I-10 in the West Valley. It has drawn
opposition from Ahwatukee residents because at least 217 homes would have to be
But according to the mayors' statement: "Ahwatukee residents are likely to
benefit most from the freeway, through shorter commute times and increased
property values as the subdivision is freed from its stigma as 'the world's
largest cul-de-sac.' "
That stance didn't sit well with Melanie Pai, founder of the anti-freeway group
Protecting Arizona's Resources and Children.
She said it was "irresponsible" for the mayors to issue the statement
without knowing what the environmental impact would be on the area.
"I would much rather live in the world's largest cul-de-sac than have 9,000
children attending school next to the world's most ridiculous, self-inflicted
health hazard," she said. "What this shows is a clear disregard for
the health and well-being of children. They should consider all the factors
before making statements like this."
Phoenix City Councilman Greg Stanton, who represents Ahwatukee Foothills and
other areas, said the freeway doesn't make sense from a regional perspective and
that there is a limited amount of money available for roads.
Planners say the freeway could cost $1.7 billion to $2.4 billion to build,
depending on routes.
"We can't do everything," Stanton said. "We have to make tough
decisions as to what's in the best interests to the region as a whole. If we do
this freeway, other projects are not going to happen."
Stanton mentioned increased development in Pinal County that will bring another
million or more residents into Maricopa County and worsening traffic jams north
of Phoenix on Interstate 17.
The mayors' statement pointed out that the Maricopa Association of Governments
estimates the proposed freeway would cut travel times. An Ahwatukee resident who
works at the Metrocenter mall in north Phoenix, for example, could get home 25
minutes faster if the freeway was built.
It also could shave more than 50 minutes off a rush-hour, round-trip commute
from the Williams Gateway Airport area in southeast Mesa to Goodyear Airport,
"High-quality employers cannot afford to have their employees or products
perpetually stranded in traffic," the statement said.
The mayors cited the long history of the freeway and said it was a "case
study in what happens when right of way is not protected."
The freeway was first identified as a possibility in 1985. The Arizona
Department of Transportation began buying rights of way in the late '80s but was
unable to buy more because of a funding shortage, the statement said.
Hawker said he came up with the idea for the letter because he thought ADOT was
the only one making any arguments in favor of the freeway.
"They would go to an open house, and everyone would tell them, 'Don't build
this freeway.' I think that bothered a lot of people that would appreciate this
connectivity to the rest of the Valley," he said.
Many Ahwatukee Foothills residents are hoping the Gila River Indian Community
will allow the freeway to be built on the Gila River Reservation. The Gila
community, however, has been officially opposed to that idea.
"If the Indian Community isn't interested, we need to accept this answer
and move forward with the project," the mayors said.
Reporters Geri Koeppel and Edythe Jensen
contributed to this story.