From the folks who are bringing Ahwatukee the South Mountain Freeway with its soaring sound walls and other changes that have impacted the community’s landscape comes a new addition that has Club West and other residents up in arms.
In recent weeks, the Arizona Department of Transportation and project designer-builder Connect202Partners have been installing a chain link fence along Liberty Lane – part of a fence that will run the entire 22 miles of the freeway, scheduled to open in a few months.
The fence has roiled the tempers of a host of elected officials, the Club West Community Association board and individual residents – all of whom have called it a needless insult to the injury that the freeway project has inflicted on Ahwatukee.
“I thought, well, how hideous,” Elspeth Gadzik recalled thinking when she first saw crews installing the fence several weeks ago. “I mean, this is really ugly.”
She’s not the only one who feels that way.
“We’re hoping they can modify the fencing,” said Club West HOA board President Mike Hinz. “We let them know it’s an eyesore and we’re trying to set up a meeting to see if they can modify it. We don’t understand why they need it.”
State Sen. Sean Bowie said, “I have personally reached out to ADOT and asked if an alternative to the chain link fence can be installed alongside the Club West neighborhood. They are currently looking at alternatives, and I’ve expressed to them how important this is for my constituents in the Club West community.”
Sam G. Stone, chief of staff for city Councilman Sal DiCiccio said ADOT prepared a message that it asked his office to circulate under DiCiccio’s name.
The suggested message said, “I asked ADOT if there are any other options that can be considered to make the fence blend more with the community aesthetic. Unfortunately, chain link is the standard that ADOT uses throughout the freeway system.
“An approach you and your neighbors might wish to consider is having your HOA ask ADOT if it is possible to provide alternative fencing options. When an HOA makes a request, it shows ADOT that it is a communitywide issue and allows ADOT to work directly with one entity.”
Ironically, Hinz said the Club West HOA is still waiting for ADOT’s response – though ADOT said it has spoken with HOA leaders.
DiCiccio said thanks but no thanks to ADOT’s suggested message to constituents, according to Stone.
“We aren’t doing any such thing,” Stone said. “They are very clearly in blow-and-go mode to get the project finished, and aren’t being nearly as responsive to neighborhood requests as they were throughout most of the project.
“We’ve pushed on a bunch of issues in the last few weeks, and keep getting fairly similar responses back,” Stone added.
The fence, which already has been finished in Laveen and the Salt River crossing, is standard for any state highway, said ADOT spokesman Tom Herrmann.
“These fences secure the right-of-way and provide a barrier to prevent people from accidentally walking on to the freeway or on- and off-ramps,” he said, noting the land could pose a hazard to pedestrians since it often is dotted with culverts.
“The fences are there for safety of the people in the community,” Hermann added. “We obviously discourage graffiti, and we remove it regularly. The purpose of the fence is to secure the right of way and discourage people, including children, from entering an area with potential safety hazards.”
Gadzig and her husband Joe Gadzig scoff at the notion that the fence could deter a determined vandal from marking up freeway walls, noting that it likely can be scaled with ease.
They said that while a Connect202Partners representative suggested the fence could be painted to blend in more with the terrain, that won’t help if trash is blown around and ends up sticking to it.
Though the Gadzigs also said Connect202Partners told them fence was always part of the freeway plan and that fact was made known at ADOT’s community meetings on the freeway, they said they can’t remember ever being told about it.
The fence also is yet another blemish on Club West’s landscape, they noted.
“First we have the dead golf course, then we have the sound walls and now the fence,” Elspeth said.
Herrmann said anyone driving along any freeway in Arizona will see the similar fences unless a sound wall abuts nearby surface streets.
“Right-of-way fencing is a state safety standard and has been included in the plans for this freeway from our initial planning,” he said.
Asked if the HOA or Bowie or DiCiccio can change ADOT’s mind, he replied:
“We appreciate Sen. Bowie taking his time to speak with us about this important issue. We have been in communication with the homeowners’ association throughout the project to discuss various issues, including a conversation Monday morning.
“And because much of the South Mountain Freeway lies within the city of Phoenix, city officials have been involved in our activities from the start more than three years ago. We will continue to work with the HOA.”