Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Gila River to vote on freeway alignment

The Gila River Indian Community will hold a vote, February 7th, on whether to locate the final section of Loop 202, also known as the South Mountain Freeway, on reservation land.

Current plans call for the freeway, which would be a valuable alternative to I-10 for Maricopa drivers headed to the West Valley, to follow an alignment along Pecos Road west to 55th Avenue.  This alignment would result in the destruction of a church, plus more than one-hundred Ahwatukee homes.  Several scenic ridges in Phoenix South Mountain Park would also have to be blasted.

If the tribe approves, the Arizona Department of Transportation would be able to relocate the freeway south of the current proposed alignment, where it would be placed on flat, undeveloped land.

Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio, whose district covers the Ahwatukee area, released a statement yesterday regarding the freeway situation:

You may have read about the saga of the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway in the Arizona Republic discussing a possible vote by the Gila Indian Community about moving the freeway path onto its land. 
Proposed South Mountain Freeway nears new tribal vote (read here)
To appreciate where we may be going, it is instructive to rewind the tape on the long and bumpy history of this leg of the metro freeway system. We've come a long way. At one point, the only path being considered was pummeling right through pristine South Mountain Park ridges and Ahwatukee neighborhoods. 
If it were not for a group of Ahwatukee residents we assembled, that might still be the case. Thankfully, we have pushed for and achieved at least a true exploration of alternatives that did not exist before that. It’s not the save we hoped for yet, but it’s a better place than we were three years ago. 
Loop 202 was part of an expansive network of new freeways approved by voters in 1985 and again in 2004. The South Mountain leg of the freeway system was low on the priority list, as were other legs like Loop 303 on the far west side that were outside of the central core routes that moved most of the Valley workers to jobs daily. 
At one point, when revenues were not meeting projections, some parts of the system were killed, most notably the Paradise Freeway, which connected the western leg of Loop 101 with Interstate 17. Others, including the South Mountain loop, simply were pushed back. But they were always in the plan. We didn’t hear much about the South Mountain route during the ‘90s because of those push-backs. 
In the mid-2000s, though, the interior freeways had mostly been funded and built, and the agencies in charge of planning and building the system began to turn their attention to the outer stretches, including South Mountain. That planning and construction is under the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) and the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT). Phoenix has representation on MAG but does not make the call on routes and timing. 
When I returned to the Phoenix City Council in 2009, the prevailing story line was that the freeway would be coming in a few years and that it would run right over Pecos Road, over hundreds of houses and businesses and a group of high and pristine ridges on the southwestern corner of South Mountain Park.  According to this narrative, there was no way to shift the freeway alignment south, putting it on the Gila River Indian Community (similar to what occurred in Scottsdale with the Loop 101) because the Community had rejected that option. 
Because of the incredible damage to South Mountain and Ahwatukee – plus the much higher engineering cost of blasting through the mountain, we assembled a group of Ahwatukee residents to look for alternatives. This volunteer group included people who favored a freeway and those who didn’t. We met with tribal leaders, federal and local officials and others stakeholders interested in the freeway. 
What they discovered was that no one had ever presented a proposal to the Gila River Indian Community. And that was made official when, at a MAG Transportation Committee a couple of years ago, the tribal Vice Governor noted that no proposal ever had been presented to the Community -- and that it would consider one if it were. 
It was a shocker. Suddenly, there was a possible alternative that never before had been explored. In our many meetings with federal, state and local officials, we discovered that if an alternative exists, the federal government requires that it be studied. At this point, politics entered the picture and opportunists sought to use the issue for partisan gain. (As you are aware, I have a minority interest, incurred when not on the city council, in a lease on property not far off Interstate 10 that would be near either alignment.) 
Meanwhile, a group of landowners from the Gila River Community, those whose property would be on the logical path should the alignment be moved south, got together and supported such a shift. Members of the tribal community also said they considered South Mountain sacred and wanted that to remain untouched.  An election was held where a third option that isn’t even on the table – no freeway being built at all – earned a plurality of Community votes.  (MAG plans to build the freeway either through South Mountain and Ahwatukee or the Community route, but “no freeway” isn’t among its options.) 
Now it looks as if the Community might vote again, with the “no freeway” element removed. That may well be the last opportunity to avoid an expensive blasting through South Mountain and Pecos Road neighborhoods. 
Remember again where we were just three years ago, when MAG and ADOT had a plan – and only one plan – to build the freeway over the park ridges and homes. Phoenix doesn’t get an official vote on the alignment. At the very least, though, the actions of people in Ahwatukee and the Gila River Indian Community have forced them to actually explore alternatives that would be less destructive and less expensive.
My best to you and your family,

Sal DiCiccio
City of Phoenix
Councilman, District 6

No comments:

Post a Comment