Residents of Laveen are ready for the South Mountain Loop 202 Freeway to be built.
Hundreds of them showed up to a meeting at Cesar Chavez High School on Thursday, May 16 to organize their comments on the Arizona Department of Transportation’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement and better advocate for the freeway to be built.
Members of the Gila River Indian Community and the No South Mountain Freeway group also attended the meeting to protest the freeway and ask some uncomfortable questions of Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski and State Rep. Ruben Gallego, who hosted the meeting.
Gallego and Nowakowski admitted having a personal interest in the freeway being built.
“When you’re dealing with something this big, which is a billion-dollar construction project and there’s going to be businesses that go up and down related to this,” Gallego said. “I’m sure, yes, I have a lot of donors from the Laveen area and many are small business owners that will benefit from it indirectly. So I may have received a $400 donation for my campaign. Is that going to affect if I support the highway? No. I’ve been a supporter of the highway since I was a staffer at the city. It’s a platform I ran on.”
Comments made during the meeting were focused on the economic impacts the freeway would have for the Laveen area. Nowakowski stated that there are plans for a hospital, a mall, restaurants and shops, but that all the plans are dependent on the South Mountain Freeway being built. He said the shops and businesses won’t come unless there’s a possibility that residents from other parts of the Valley could be attracted to the area.
“There’s some magic number over 50,000 roof tops that attract the malls and movie theatres,” Nowakowski said. “We’re at about 40,000 right now so we’re 10,000 short but if we add this freeway that adds the Ahwatukee area. Those rooftops would be within that 10-mile radius that they look for to build those retail spaces.”
One Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) youth stood and asked how attendees felt about destroying such a religiously significant site. His question was addressed by a Laveen resident.
“I’m terribly saddened to see this kind of fracture,” said Jennifer Nelson. “My personal opinion is I don’t think this will kill any cultures or communities. I have a very dear friend of mine from a tribe in Oklahoma. I have attended powwows there and seen how sacredly land can be treated. I have seen what sacred land is and how it’s used. Unfortunately, my personal opinion is I don’t see it being treated as sacred land.”
Nelson said she has seen only crime and addiction coming from casinos on the reservation. She said though she will live close to the freeway, if it were built on 59th Avenue she believes the freeway will be a compromise for the greater good.
When it comes to environmental impacts of the freeway, Gallego explained that most particulate matter in Laveen comes from unregulated farms kicking up dust. He repeated what is explained in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that the freeway will help with vehicle pollution by reducing vehicle congestion on local freeways.
During the meeting, Nowakowski’s staff presented information on a poll recently conducted by High Ground. According to the poll, when 400 Maricopa County voters were questioned results showed 64.3 percent favored building the South Mountain Freeway. Three hundred voters in Ahwatukee and Laveen were asked the same question and 59 percent supported the freeway. Thirty-five percent opposed the project.
The meeting was meant to prepare Laveen residents to give positive comments about the freeway during the Arizona Department of Transportation’s all-day public hearing on Tuesday, May 21. ADOT will be taking public comments about the freeway and the recently released DEIS through July 24. For more information on how to submit a comment or to view the DEIS, visit southmountainfreeway.com.
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