The South Mountain Loop 202 has been a controversial topic of discussion in Ahwatukee Foothills for years and has left many just wanting a solution. Now, a new leader of Phoenix is about to take over and those vying for the position have their own ideas about the freeway.
Wes Gullett remembers working as chief of staff for Gov. Fife Symington at the time the loop was first being considered.
“Gov. Symington took away the funding for the South Mountain Freeway,” Gullett said. “There was an effort to pass additional funding at that time that failed. One of the things we looked at was putting a toll option on the South Mountain Freeway as a way to get it built and that was rejected by the Legislature.
“To build the system that we have today we had to take funding away from certain aspects of the system. If we hadn’t done that the 51 interchange with the 101 in north Phoenix was not scheduled to be done until 2015. Everything would be half done, including the South Mountain Freeway. Instead of doing everything halfway we decided to complete the loop.”
Now, Gullett says many years later they are still “messing around” and he’d like to see a conclusion.
“We need to do everything we can to get it going,” Gullett continued. “Sal’s (DiCiccio) been working on it, he’s been pushing for the alignment on the Gila River reservation and has tried to get some movement going again. I think that’s important.
“The alignment that would force a cut through of South Mountain Park I don’t think is appropriate, and I don’t think people in Ahwatukee want that. I think we have to continue to work in partnership with the Gila River Indian Community and get some closurein the west alignment for the people in Laveen.”
Gullett said he believes some privatization on the road, like a toll lane, might give some incentive to move the project along.
Claude Mattox has been critical of Symington’s move. Tom Milton, his campaign manager, says Mattox believes the Loop 202 could have been better off today if Symington had completed it decades ago.
“My sense is what he’s saying is somewhere along the way we have to get this done,” Milton said. “We could look at things like land exchanges. He understands the importance of the preserve, especially to the Ahwatukee community.
“I know that Claude is critical because Gov. Symington swept some of these projects away to deal with East Valley freeways and he believes we could have been further along. I’ve heard him be critical of the revenue issue that way but I’m not sure revenue is an issue right now for getting it done.”
Mattox does not support cutting through the preserve, but he does want to see some completion of the project so that the city can have a chance at more economic opportunities.
Peggy Neely agrees.
“I commend Councilman DiCiccio on his efforts to resolve this issue - he has moved this process light years ahead of his predecessor,” Neely said in an email. “I support working with the Indian community to find an alternative route for the east/west connection.
“Meanwhile, the neighborhoods in the western area want and need the north/south portion to provide the community with better access and opportunities for additional services such as a much needed hospital. As a member of Maricopa Association of Governments, I understand how critical the South Mountain Loop is for our regional connectivity. The key is that time is of the essence to complete the environmental study.”
Greg Stanton said he believes this topic is too large to rush into. He supports giving the Gila River Community more time.
“They have recently allowed ADOT (the Arizona Department of Transportation) to do an environmental impact study on their land, which they didn’t for a long time,” Stanton said. “This is a really, really important decision. This road is for the most part going to be a truck bypass around Phoenix. It’s important that it be built correctly.
“My position is both as a matter of law and a matter of respect to Gila River, we should give them the time to go through the public decision process.”
Anna Brennan, the newest candidate in the mayor’s race, was not entirely familiar with the subject of the Loop 202 when it was brought up during a recent forum at South Mountain Community College. She says since then she has done some research and agrees that to cut through the mountain should be an absolute last resort.
“This is a big undertaking,” Brennan said. “We have to go to the old cliché of measure twice and cut once. Yes, we need to expedite it because we do have traffic issues on the I-10 but I think it should be looked at one more time and make sure everything is considered. It should be completely open to the community.”
Jennifer Wright and write-in candidate Thane Eichenauer were not available for comment for this article. The candidates did answer a question about the Loop 202 during a forum at South Mountain Community College.
That forum was recorded and is expected to be replayed on MCTV, the Maricopa Community College’s cable station, sometime in July. The exact date of that showing was not immediately known but will be posted online at http://southmountaincc.edu as soon as it is decided.
The election will take place on Aug. 30.