Arizona Department of Transportation

Controlled blasting in areas east and west of Desert Foothills Parkway will begin this summer and continue several times a week into next year, when even “more substantial” explosive work will start on South Mountain, the Arizona Department of Transportation has disclosed.

The blasting is necessary to remove rock as work on the South Mountain Freeway continues gaining momentum along Pecos Road in Ahwatukee.

Meanwhile, there were other developments involving the construction’s impact on area residents and motorists:

Residents who have been complaining about construction-related beeping noise throughout the night caused by heavy equipment and trucks going in reverse can expect it to continue for at least another two months.

That is the price of the agreement between ADOT and a group of public officials that shortens a hauling period that would have lasted six months. An ADOT spokesman said the agency is taking steps to curb the beeping.

ADOT installed a speed-monitoring device along the interim Pecos Road in response to complaints about excessive speeding along the 40 mph four-lane road.

“Pecos Road is a local road, not a freeway, and construction is occurring on the other side of the concrete barricades,” said Rob Samour, ADOT’s senior deputy state engineer for major projects. “Motorists have a responsibility to slow down and obey the reduced speed limit.”

Freeway developer-designer Connect 202 Partners started contacting 1,000 homeowners within a half mile of the blasting area about 10 days ago “to schedule surveys, which will include a physical inspection of the homeowner’s property to document its current condition before blasting work begins,” ADOT spokesman Dustin Krugel said.

No date nor detailed plans and schedules for the blasting have yet been finalized, although the home surveys won’t begin until late May, he said. He also said additional information about the blasting would be provided to the public before the work begins.

“These surveys are completely precautionary and voluntary,” Krugel said, adding:

“Connect 202 Partners has hired Aimone-Martin Associates (AMA), which specializes in blasting and vibration monitoring and has extensive experience working within residential areas in Arizona to conduct the surveys.

“AMA will also conduct vibration monitoring during the blasting to ensure ground vibration does not exceed allowable levels and provide a second level of assurance the blasting will not impact residences.”

Opponents criticize blasting plan

Krugel also warned, “More substantial rock removal will be needed for the center segment for the freeway when it passes through a portion of South Mountain. That work is not anticipated to begin until 2018.”

News of the impending blasts drew an angry reaction from Pat Lawlis, president of the Ahwatukee-based Protect Arizona’s Resources and Children, which is trying to stop the freeway work before the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

PARC and the Gila River Indian Community contend that a federal judge in Phoenix erred when she failed to find that ADOT and the Federal Highway Administration performed an insufficient environmental impact study of the 22-mile freeway.

The freeway is projected to provide a detour for 140,000 vehicles a day around downtown Phoenix from the 59th Avenue interchange of I-10 in west Phoenix to the I-10 interchange in Chandler. At a cost of $1.7 billion, the freeway is Arizona’s most expensive highway project in history.

“The blasting would still destroy foothills of South Mountain that cannot be replaced,” Lawlis said. “This is irreparable harm, and ADOT knows it. They are once again bullying the residents of Ahwatukee for no good reason. This work easily could be delayed until after the court case is settled.”

Because the freeway is scheduled to open by late 2019, work is underway along multiple segments of the thoroughfare.

The only exception involves the segment that will cut a 200-foot gash through three peaks of South Mountain. ADOT and the FHA have told the appeals court that work would not start on that segment until the middle of next year.

Other noise issues related to construction have involved beeping and jackhammering this month, causing some residents to wonder if ADOT had reneged on its assurances at several public meetings that contractors would follow city ordinances restricting such activity to 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

The jackhammers were heard the first weekend of April during a full closure of Pecos Road so that crews could remove traffic signal foundations at 40th and 32nd streets, Krugel said.

“In order to have the roadway open before the Monday morning commute, some jackhammering was needed to break up the concrete foundations late Friday night/early Saturday morning. We received one complaint regarding this work,” he said.

Nighttime dirt hauls necessary

The more persistent noise involves beeping from trucks hauling tons of dirt that will form an embankment for the freeway.

“What do you like to do during the spring in Arizona? Leave the windows open at night, but I can’t because of all that beeping,” said Lakewood resident Jeff Ludwig, a retired construction worker.

Ludwig said the noise could be eliminated if more flagmen were deployed to guide the dump trucks.

“I thought of complaining to the Health Department because that noise is keeping people awake at night and robbing them of sleep,” he said.

But Krugel said more flagmen, or spotters, “are not being considered” because of safety concerns and because crews would then need additional lighting “that may impact adjacent residents.”

“ADOT and Connect 202 Partners are committed to listening to the community and working in partnership to minimize noise and inconvenience from South Mountain Freeway construction,” he said, adding:

“Based on community input, we are evaluating additional options to reduce noise during the nightly dirt hauls, including installing white noise backup alarms to reduce the noise created from heavy equipment that is backing up.”

The white-noise alarms that crews have begun testing create a static sound instead of the beeping, Krugel said.

“If the safety team feels these alarms provide the same level of protection of the construction workers as the traditional alarms, the alarms will be replaced on developer’s equipment.”

Krugel said that 16 to 20 trucks are hauling about 450,000 cubic yards of dirt for the freeway between 24th and 48th streets and that the night work is necessary “to avoid significant traffic backups on 40th Street and Pecos Road and impacts to the Pecos Park-and-Ride” lot.

He also noted, “The community and elected officials have consistently told ADOT and Connect 202 Partners that they want us to complete the work in as little time as possible while limiting traffic impacts on Pecos Road, and night work is necessary to accomplish both.”

While crews are doing as much work in the daytime as they can near homes, “some must be done at night for safety and to reduce traffic impacts,” he said, adding that includes “current work to haul in dirt and future work to place bridge girders over local streets.”

“Once the dirt embankments are built up at each site, crews will move to other areas along the freeway,” Krugel said, adding that notices had been sent to Foothills Paseo and Lakewood HOAs and homes along Pecos Road.

The “tonal backup alarms” are needed for workers’ safety, he added.

“Construction vehicles have large blind spots, making it difficult to see fellow workers on site and according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration,” Krugel said. “More than 150 people are killed each year from being run over by construction vehicles. The crews have also established circular haul routes to reduce the amount of backing up needed.”

Nevertheless, residents’ ears are bound to be impacted for the next two years by freeway work.

“The bottom line is that construction makes noise,” Krugel said. “But ADOT and Connect 202 Partners work to minimize it as much as possible. We want to be a good neighbor by limiting those impacts and completing the project in as little time as possible.”

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