In a May 29 column in the Ahwatukee Foothills News a writer stated building the "Loop 202 is a good idea whose time has come." That may be true, but not for the reasons he stated.
First, he notes voters have twice approved completing the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), which includes the South Mountain Freeway (SM202). He feels we should build the SM202 Freeway to "honor the will of the voters." Unfortunately though, due to an over $5 billion revenue shortfall in the freeway program, completing the RTP as mandated by voters is no longer possible. We voted to build all projects in the RTP with funds from a half-cent sales tax accumulated over 20 years. If that can't be done, which it can't, than it's impossible to "honor the will of the voters."
Secondly, the writer states building the SM202 Freeway is appropriate because it "provide[s] a larger benefit to the greater metropolitan area." I disagree - the almost $3 billion cost and unknown physical impact to Ahwatukee Foothills does not justify the limited improvement to regional traffic flow. Furthermore, the significant cost could have the unintended consequence of deleting other, more worthy, cost efficient freeway projects from the RTP. Completing a 10-lane SM202 Freeway would require committing more than 25 percent of the RTP's total funds to the SM202.
Third, the writer says if the SM202 is not built, traffic on Interstate 10 east of Ahwatukee Foothills "will be unbearable" and "regularly jammed" as surrounding communities grow. He further states because of this people "won't buy houses" in Ahwatukee Foothills. Those remaining will see their "property values decrease." The RTP's traffic study doesn't seem to support those claims. Traffic congestion referred to as Levels of Service by the project's planners are graded "F" with or without SM202 in the year 2030. A study completed by RTP planners in 2006 predicts the SM202 only removes 14,000 of the 198,000 vehicles expected to travel I-10 between Chandler Boulevard and Ray Road daily. It removes a few more between Warner and Elliott roads - but still not nearly enough to make unbearable traffic bearable.
Finally, the writer expresses concern for Ahwatukee's "specialty boutiques and small companies." He implies an SM202 Freeway will improve their chances for survival. The SM202 traffic study seems to indicate the opposite. Depending on where in Ahwatukee the business is, the study predicts approximately 10 percent to 25 percent of traffic is transferred from Chandler Boulevard and Ray Road to the freeway. Businesses intentionally locate on roadways with the most drive-by traffic. Removing traffic from these roadways would seem to hurt these businesses, not help them.
I believe even the RTP planners are questioning the feasibility of a 10-lane freeway. They have begun studying a potentially less expensive and physically impactfull parkway concept. I believe they are concerned that spending 25 percent of the RTP's total revenue on a 10-lane freeway that doesn't provide much improvement to regional traffic flow isn't the most prudent expenditure of our scarce freeway infrastructure dollars.
Chad Blostone lives in The Foothills and is a member of the South Mountain Loop 202 Citizens Advisory Team that is looking at project options.