Individuals for and against the Loop 202 freeway expansion trickled in and out of the Phoenix Convention Center Tuesday and offered passionate pleas to panel members as the Arizona Department of Transportation hosted a day-long public hearing on the South Mountain Freeway.
ADOT estimates 650 people attended the hearing on Tuesday. Formal comments were made by 117 people, 83 comment forms were turned in, 10 letters were left in the comment box and 100 people commented via the online public hearing, according to ADOT spokesman Tim Tait.
The event was divided into three rooms in the Phoenix Convention Center. The first room housed a video about the project and the recently-released Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The second room contained large displays of information within the statement. There were also court reporters prepared to write down public comments and tables with computers displaying the statement for public review. A panel of employees from ADOT and the Federal Highway Administration listened to public comment in the third room.
The freeway has been a topic of debate since the 90s but was actually first placed on area maps in 1985. ADOT will be taking public comments about the proposed freeway until July 24. This time is vital because ADOT and the Federal Highway Administration will use these comments to draft a Final Environmental Impact Statement which will then be used to seek final approval of the freeway. Many environmental groups are also aware that comments made during this time will be crucial in litigation they have planned later on.
At the event members of Protecting Arizona’s Resources and Children (PARC) passed out pamphlets opposing the freeway due to destruction of South Mountain, increased air pollution — especially from trucks using it as a CANAMEX corridor — and a waste of taxpayer dollars. Members of the Phoenix Mountain Preservation Council, the Save Our Mountains Foundation and the Gila River Indian Community also attended the event to show opposition.
The Sierra Club has named the South Mountain Freeway as one of the worst transportation projects in the country and handed out fliers at the event stating that the project was a bad idea because of increased traffic, diminished air quality, increased dependence on fossil fuels, burden on local tax base, destruction of habitat and it would be an inefficient use of valuable land. The Sierra Club is asking the state to consider investing in existing infrastructure and encouraging incentive-based programs that encourage walking, biking, carpooling or public transportation.
Steve Brittle of Don’t Waste Arizona used the hearing to announce his recent finding that although emergency response for hazardous materials is glazed over in the DEIS, the exact information that should have been included was compiled by HDR, the same consultant used in the DEIS.
“If they have the information and neglected to include it, someone must have told them not to,” Brittle said. “That’s criminal.”
While there were many opposed to the freeway in attendance, those who favor the idea were also represented. Let’s Build the 202 handed out green shirts to those in support of the freeway. They cited an increase in construction jobs, an increase in traffic and an increase in development for areas like Laveen as reasons why the freeway is needed.
“I’m here today as a mother that lives in Laveen,” said Shona Velazquez. “We moved out there originally because we heard there was going to be a lot more out there that would be built. So far that has not happened because we don’t have the access of the Loop 202… We don’t want to damage South Mountain but we need to make some sacrifices and take into account all the extra building that will be happening in Laveen shortly. We can’t overlook the fact that all the growth will still continue and now is our opportunity to handle all the extra traffic.”
There’s still an opportunity to submit comments to ADOT. The entire DEIS can be reviewed online at southmountainfreeway.com or in person at the Ironwood Branch of the Phoenix Public Library, 4333 E. Chandler Blvd.
Written comments can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to South Mountain Study Team, Arizona Department of Transportation, 1655 West Jackson Street, MD 126F, Phoenix, AZ 85007. Residents can also call (602) 712-7006.
• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or email@example.com.