Ahwatukee residents will have a chance to weigh in on the proposed addition of a South Mountain Freeway interchange at 32nd Street when the Arizona Department of Transportation holds an open house on that and other construction issues later this month.
State Rep. Jill Norgaard said she sought the open house – 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, May 22 at Desert Vista High School’s cafeteria, 16440 S. 32nd St., Ahwatukee – because of “a lot of people who want updates on the freeway schedule, blasting, lawsuit” and the poor lane striping on Pecos Road.
“There is no formal presentation,” ADOT said in a release. “The public can speak one-on-one with project staff about the studies and learn more about construction progress to date and what to expect for the rest of the year.”
ADOT since February has been conducting an environmental impact study on the addition of a 32nd Street interchange as well as an additional one at Ivanhoe Street in Laveen. It expects to complete that study in August and make a decision soon after on whether to build the interchanges.
The interchanges would cost $10 million each and would not be part of the $1.7 billion the agency already is spending on the 22-mile, eight-lane stretch between the Chandler and W. 59th Street interchanges of Interstate 10. It is the most expensive highway project in Arizona history.
It “would be funded through project contingency and/or regional funds,” ADOT said.
ADOT originally planned an interchange at 32nd Street but eliminated it during the development of the preliminary environmental impact study for the entire stretch in 2005.
Based on input from Phoenix officials and a citizens advisory team, ADOT agreed to eliminate it. It said the city subsequently “conducted a traffic circulation study to evaluate the impacts of the proposed freeway on the local street system, including the elimination of the interchange at 32nd Street” and that “the city study found no adverse effects on the local street system from the freeway with or without an interchange.”
ADOT said that as a result of a 2016 meeting, “the community, including local and state officials, expressed an interest in re-considering the need for an interchange at 32nd Street.”
“The concerns raised by the community included the concern that traffic would increase substantially on Liberty Lane and Lakewood Parkway (both minor collectors) because vehicles currently using 32nd Street would need to get to 24th or 40th streets to access the new freeway. This additional traffic would pass directly by a number of local schools.”
The absence of the interchange means that in the event of an emergency requiring a mass evacuation, Desert Vista High School and other nearby schools would have only one way out of the area.
Former state Rep. Bob Robson first called attention to that potential problem in 2016 and Norgaard and city Councilman Sal Diciccio subsequently pressed ADOT for creation of a second emergency escape route.
For now, ADOT has said that a makeshift road used by construction vehicles would be left for emergencies but would not be open to regular traffic in the area.
But ADOT said, “More recently, the project team has received numerous requests from the local community and schools to revisit construction of an interchange at 32nd Street. The study of this interchange has also been supported by elected officials and the Maricopa Association of Governments.”
“The purpose of the 32nd Street traffic interchange would be to improve access to and mobility within” Ahwatukee, ADOT said.
The benefits, it added, would include “maintaining the current trip distributions from all of the north-south arterial streets that currently connect to Pecos Road, reducing traffic volumes on the adjacent interchanges at 40th and 24th streets” and providing an additional emergency escape route for nearby schools.
So ADOT and Connect202Partners, the consortium of three construction firms that is designing and building the freeway, undertook preliminary design work for a possible interchange with an eye toward building it without the need to condemn and acquire more homes in the area.
ADOT said exit band entrance ramps would only require it to use eminent domain to acquire “small areas of drainage easement” without taking any more homes.
It also noted that sound walls that will extend along much of Pecos Road would not extend all the way to 32nd Street but “only overlap approximately 100 feet at the ramp merge area.”
It also said the ramps would be about 30 feet away from residential boundary walls.
Renderings of the proposed design will be available at the open house.
Timing of construction is uncertain if ADOT goes ahead with an interchange. But the agency stressed, “under no circumstance would the inclusion of the (the interchange) delay the opening of the entire project in late 2019.”