Controlled blasting along Pecos Road in Ahwatukee for the South Mountain Freeway began Monday, Sept. 11, as a federal appeals court rejected opponents’ last-minute bid to stop it.
Hours after a detonation was scheduled to occur, the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued its terse response to the request by Protect Arizona’s Resources and Children and the Gila River Indian Community for an order preventing the blasting until the panel resolves his appeal of a lower-court ruling in July 2016 that cleared the way for freeway construction to begin.
"Denied," the court said, giving no further explanation.
Although originally scheduled to begin Sept. 12, crews moved up the beginning of blasts because one of the engineers had a commitment on a non-highway project Tuesday, said Dustin Krugel, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Transportation.
Up to one controlled blast per day will be scheduled during between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays only, Krugel said.
“During any controlled blast, Pecos Road traffic will be diverted for approximately 30 minutes. Once the blast is completed and the area has been cleared, Pecos Road will reopen,” he said, adding:
“On average, residents should expect three controlled blasts per week. Depending on the production, there may be fewer or more blasts needed.”
Krugel said there are up to six locations between 24th Street and 17th Avenue that have been identified as areas that may require blasting, although for now blasting would be focused on the segment of Pecos between 17th Avenue and Desert Foothills Parkway.
“Temporary closures east of Desert Foothills Parkway are anticipated when work progresses further east,” he added, saying residents within 1,000 feet of the first controlled rock blast “received a notice five days prior to the start of these activities.”
ADOT said earlier last week that blasting would force traffic to be diverted to Chandler Boulevard. It also will periodically close Desert Foothills Parkway and 17th Avenue to all but local traffic.
“To avoid peak travel times, temporary closures of Pecos Road will be limited to weekdays during midday hours (9 a.m.-3 p.m.) through mid-2018,” ADOT’s release said, adding message boards will give motorists advance warning.
ADOT and Connect202Partners said in the letter to homeowners that controlled blasting is necessary to pulverize rock along Pecos Road.
“Multiple controlled blasts will be required and may occur daily or multiple times a week for approximately 10 weeks,” the notice to homeowners said, stating that the use of heavy equipment since April had not done the job.
PARC and the Gila River Indian Community want the appeals court to stop the blasting altogether as well as bridge work along the freeway’s path in Ahwatukee, contending that construction activity will permanently damage the environment in the area. Such a stay would last at least until the appellate court resolves the case.
But ADOT and Connect 202Partners have been pushing the work along and have been laying bridge decks for the freeway since early last week.
After Shanker filed the polite reminder with the appeals court last week, PARC President Pat Lawlis told members:
“I'm not overly optimistic about this one, but we had to try. Blasting the foothills will definitely produce irreparable harm.”
In its letter to homeowners, ADOT said a siren will blare for five minutes before each blast, signaling that crews will be clearing the area. The siren will then sound again for one minute just before detonation.
“The actual controlled blast will only last a few seconds and may feel like a large truck driving by your home or a 30 mph wind gust,” the letter to homeowners stated.
Following the blast, an all-clear siren would be sounded.
“The work will comply with safety standards established by the city of Phoenix and the U.S. Bureau of Mines,” ADOT’s release said.
ADOT and Connect202Partners several months ago alerted homeowners to the possibility of blasting and invited them to have a free inspection of their homes, noting people who did not get an inspection could not later claim their house suffered damage during the blasting.
Krugel said it’s not too late for homeowners to request an inspection.
“Homeowners within a half mile of a controlled rock blasting site will not be turned away for a structure condition survey,” he said.
“The developer (Connect 202 Partners) has contacted residents who qualify for the survey and all surveys are scheduled to be completed in September,” Krugel added. “C202P will prioritize scheduling home surveys for residents located nearest the current controlled rock blasting locations.”
Krugel also noted that for now, blasting is focused along Pecos Road.
More aggressive blasting is likely to occur beyond Ahwatukee in mid-2018, when ADOT and Connect202Partners begin dynamiting South Mountain, where the freeway will cut a 200-foot-wide swath across three peaks.