The Arizona Department of Transportation is still contemplating a South Mountain Freeway interchange at 32nd Street in Ahwatukee after initially abandoning the plan several years ago because it thought it would need to acquire more houses.
Tom Sanfilippo/Inside Out Aerial

State Rep. Jill Norgaard and city Councilman Sal DiCiccio are continuing to meet with South Mountain Freeway planners on a variety of issues that include the possibility of an interchange at 32nd Street.

The two officials, who over the past 18 months have extracted several concessions from the Arizona Department of Transportation, said they have been focusing their attention on the interchange, a water line to Club West and noise and traffic issues.

The Lakewood Homeowners Association board also has been pressing ADOT on building the 32nd Street interchange, and the agency has agreed to undertake an environmental impact study – the final step before it can decide the issue.

But DiCiccio said that even if ADOT concludes a full interchange is doable, agency officials have told him they’ll shelve the plan if it looks like it could prompt another lawsuit.

“They also expressed concern that this could open up another lawsuit and that the state of Arizona was not going to be involved in a project if it involves another lawsuit,” DiCiccio said. “They likely would not move forward with the interchange if they had another lawsuit.”

He also said ADOT has indicated it might finish the Pecos Road segment of the 22-mile, eight-lane freeway by December in order to relieve traffic on Chandler Boulevard.

While work has been picking up on the connector freeway between 59th Avenue in West Phoenix and the Chandler interchange on I-10, DiCiccio and Norgaard said ADOT still must address other issues that impact the quality of life in many Ahwatukee neighborhoods because of the freeway.

“I spoke with them a few weeks ago and asked if we could have another community event like we had last year at Pecos Community Center that Sal and I coordinated where they could discuss the next phases of the freeway and when and how the community could provide input to issues,” Norgaard said.

Eyeing a March town hall, Norgaard said those issues included “aesthetics, noise abatement, timing and upcoming changes in the routes.”

Meanwhile, ADOT announced a new traffic headache for some neighborhoods near the freeway footprint.

It said one-way traffic will be imposed on Liberty Lane starting next week until June so crews can install a new 48-inch-wide, 6,700-foot-long city water pipe that will replace one in the freeway footprint.

The work on Liberty Lane – between Desert Foothills Parkway and 24th Street – will allow only for eastbound lanes to remain open since the center and westbound lanes must be closed for construction, ADOT said.

ADOT said it and freeway design-buildings Connect 202 Partners will make sure “access will be maintained to schools, gyms, churches and local streets along Liberty Lane.”

It also said residents would be notified in advance if water service must be shut off at any time during the water line construction.

Connecting the new water main to existing water mains along Desert Foothills Parkway and 24th Street will require those mains to be temporarily out of service. In order to meet the demands of higher water use during the summer months, these connections need to be in place by June,” ADOT said.

The speed limit will be reduced to 25 mph through the work zone.

The absence of a 32nd Street interchange has been a sore point for the Lakewood HOA board, which told member households recently:

“The board is most concerned about the impact this may have in the mornings when Desert Vista High School traffic may cut through Lakewood, potentially exacerbating the current traffic of children and busses entering Lagos Elementary School and loading additional traffic along Lakewood Parkway.”

Noting an interchange was originally planned, the board said it asked ADOT “to reinstate a 32nd Street interchange” and that agency officials indicated it could be built without taking any houses.

The board also said ADOT needs to complete a preliminary design so that it can undertake the environmental impact study – which will include public outreach sometime in the spring or early summer.

The $1.7 billion project is scheduled to be completed near the end of next year ,and it is unclear if the interchange would be ready by then if ADOT decides to build it.

ADOT also has said it would need to find money for the project.

Bob Hazlett, senior engineering manager for the Maricopa Association of Governments, the principal highway planning agency in the Valley, last year told the Chandler Chamber of Commerce that MAG estimates that it will have $1 billion more than it initially figured for highway and road projects over the next decade.

Hazlett said projections made in 2012 basically were off by $1.8 billion. That’s partially because revenue from taxes, mainly the levy on gasoline, turned out 55 percent over the original estimate.

Additionally, he said, savings have been achieved by the Arizona Department of Transportation’s adoption of a “cost-risk analysis” of proposed projects that helps highway planners get a better idea of the most effective approaches to problem areas.

That windfall is expected to be used for a number of projects, including a possible lane realignment around the Horseshoe Curve and some traffic relief along the Loop 101-Price Road Freeway in Chandler.

The absence of the 32nd Street interchange had prompted concern among DiCiccio, Norgaard and several other Republican lawmakers in 2016. Former Rep. Bob Robson at the time noted that it left only one route open to Desert Vista High and several other schools.

Robson had worried that in the event of a major emergency, traffic would be so dense that it would be impossible to clear the area in a short time in the event of a chemical spill or some other emergency where time was of the essence.

ADOT subsequently agreed to leave for emergency use only a road currently being used by construction vehicles.

But DiCiccio isn’t satisfied, explaining:

“I expressed to them the importance of having a way out in case of an emergency and that the Lakewood community wanted to see this interchange accomplished. I was glad to see them going forward with the design and the environmental study.

“Also, it looks like there could be a full interchange at that location rather than a limited one.”

Beyond the interchange, one other critical issue involves running a pipeline to provide water particularly to Club West.

“They were completely supportive of making sure that there was an easement available for the waterline in the area that they controlled,” DiCiccio said of ADOT. “They are going to be working with my office to make sure this gets accomplished.”

It’s still unclear where that source of water might be located, although in the past DiCiccio said it is likely a well might exist on the southern side of the freeway that could provide water.

As far as the timing of overall freeway construction, Norgaard and DiCiccio said they are continuing to express concern about the impact that freeway construction is having on other major routes in Ahwatukee, especially Chandler Boulevard.

“I expressed to them the negative impact of quality of life with the congestion on Chandler Boulevard,” DiCiccio said, adding:

“They said that they might be able to open up the Pecos leg of the freeway by the end of the year, which would relieve all the traffic problems we are seeing on Chandler Boulevard.”

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