As heavy construction equipment began rolling onto Pecos Road, the consortium building the South Mountain Freeway continued to try and ease the concerns of Ahwatukee residents who will be most affected by the work over the next two-and-a-half years.
The effectiveness of that public relations blitz remains an open question.
On Monday, a spokeswoman for Connect 202 Partners turned her attention to Lagos Elementary School, a stone’s throw from the freeway path and one of 17 schools within a half-mile radius of it.
Theresa Gunn fielded questions from about a dozen people who showed up for the half-hour briefing.
She explained why the first wave of heavy equipment rolled onto Pecos Road last week, disclosed that no median barrier will be installed on the four-lane interim Pecos Road and tried to ease parents’ concerns about the health and safety of Lagos pupils.
She also reported that Pecos Road will be closed in both directions between Desert Foothills Parkway and 24th Street this weekend, starting Friday night, so that SRP can relocate power lines.
Many of the audience members left dissatisfied, grumbling that Dunn deflected their questions related to the freeway’s design and its environmental impact. Others expressed unhappiness about how the freeway and its construction will affect children and area residents.
Meanwhile, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton’s press secretary defended the timing of the city’s study of how the construction will impact traffic on streets near the freeway as well as on Chandler Boulevard and Ray Road.
In an email to questions raised by the Ahwatukee Foothills News a week earlier, spokesman Robbie Sherwood said the study was a response to a “good idea” raised by unnamed Ahwatukee residents who “requested a more narrow and specific ‘micro’ view of how local traffic patterns might change during and after construction of the freeway.”
“Specifically, residents wanted to see potential impacts to collector streets like Liberty Lane,” Sherwood said, adding that the study “will help us address these concerns.”
Members of the anti-freeway group Protect Arizona’s Resources and Children said they have been asking Stanton’s office and Councilman Sal DiCiccio for an impact study for years.
In reaction to PARC President Pat Lawlis’ assertion that “the city dropped the ball” in planning for traffic disruptions created by construction, Sherwood said:
“Mayor Stanton was personally opposed to this freeway alignment, but now that it is moving forward he is committed to do everything the city can to help mitigate negative impacts on our residents. We have assigned a dedicated team coordinated that includes various city department staff to work with the developer to be responsive to the concerns of residents and business owners in the area.”
Stanton’s remarks received a poor reception from some residents.
Writing on PARC’s Facebook page, Lori Sangl Fisher said: “Mayor Greg Stanton has done ZERO to minimize the impact of this freeway on Ahwatukee. I would like to see what he thinks he has done for our community except allow this travesty to happen.”
The city study will take 60 to 90 days to complete and would be available for city review around the same time that traffic on half of Pecos Road will be shunted over to a makeshift roadway that will be built on the eastbound lanes.
The interim roadway is being built to allow Pecos Road traffic to continue while the freeway is under construction.
Despite concerns raised by the Ahwatukee Foothills Village Planning Committee last month about a safety hazard created by the absence of a median barrier on the interim roadway, Gunn said it would require an additional six feet of right-of-way.
She said the interim roadway was a “typical arterial street design” for construction activity and said motorists would have to obey the new speed limit of 40 mph and exercise caution.
Residents at the Lagos meeting contended that many motorists would detour onto streets in Lakewood, but Gunn told them the city is reviewing some suggestions for traffic abatement it received from the Lakewood Homeowners Association board.
Gunn said representatives of Connect 202 Partners have been reaching out to nearby residents, schools and businesses with more detailed news about what to expect as construction begins to ramp up.
Lagos Principal Ana Gomez del Castillo said she has been fielding numerous questions from concerned parents. Some wonder whether the 1,400 workers along the entire 22-mile length of the freeway have been vetted since hundreds would be working near school children. Others brought up the impact of noise and dust.
Gunn said that she believed some background checking had been undertaken for the 500 workers employed directly by Connect 202 Partners but that she didn’t know what background checking had been done for subcontractors’ employees.
A construction supervisor said that workers would not be allowed to park their personal vehicles near the school and that they would likely be separated from any area where children might be.
Castillo also said she was concerned about Lagos boys, who already have become curious about the huge pieces of equipment that have appeared in the neighborhood. And she noted that attendance at the school would be increasing because many students are registering for Lagos’ dual-language program.
Gunn said a fence would be erected along the back of the school and a tarp would be installed, blocking the pupils’ view.
Noting that she and her colleagues have been working with all schools in the area, Gunn also said Connect 202 Partners would attempt to schedule some of the heavier construction near Lagos during spring break or the summer. However, she cautioned, “We can’t always do that.”
“We want to work with the community as much as we can to minimize the impact of construction on the community,” Gunn said, adding that noise would be minimized by the fact that much of the equipment is new and has better sound-suppression. She also said dust would be controlled by frequent watering.
Meanwhile, residents near another section of the freeway path complained that crews ripped out three large ironwood trees just east of 17th Avenue.
“These were old-growth specimens whose diameter was at least 12 inches,” said resident Dietmar Hanke. “They are now lying in the dirt. So much for ADOT’s assertion, and defense against the injunction, that the ‘salvage plan’ for the trees over 4 inches would prevent irreversible harm. Just another bald-faced lie.”
Drilling began in the vicinity of 17th Avenue and Pecos road for the support shafts of one of the 40 bridges that will be built along the length of the freeway.
Giant rebar cages will be placed into holes now being drilled and concrete will soon be poured to create bridge columns, said Dustin Krugel, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Transportation. Work also began on extending a box culvert.