A Nov. 9 deadly crash on Interstate 10 - that shut down the freeway and stopped traffic on Chandler Boulevard - has shown how dependant Ahwatukee Foothills is on the I-10, and the need for more options if an emergency were to occur.
When an empty dairy tanker crashed into the back of another tanker truck carrying a diesel gas by-product, the fire could be seen for miles. The Department of Public Safety immediately shut down the freeway in both directions, as well as a portion of Chandler Boulevard that was closest to the site. Businesses and schools within a 1-mile radius were asked to shelter down, stay indoors, and turn off their air conditioners. Horizon Community Learning Center sent kids home for fear of a possible explosion, at the request of Phoenix police.
It was a scene many residents will remember for causing bumper-to-bumper traffic throughout Chandler and Tempe as people fought their way through to Ahwatukee Foothills.
Jason Kubicki had just dropped his son off at Desert Garden Montessori on Warner Road when the crash happened. He made it off the I-10 just as it was being closed. Because his son's school was a few miles away from the accident he didn't worry about leaving him there, but he said emergencies like this do show how isolated Ahwatukee can be without the freeway.
"Ahwatukee is unique to the Valley in the sense that it is framed by South Mountain, I-10, and the Indian reservation," Kubicki said. "Since there are no roads through South Mountain, or the reservation, that leaves I-10. As a result, if I-10 is closed, Ahwatukee is essentially cut off and the city streets are not designed to accommodate the traffic burden that closing I-10 causes."
Jazmin Torres Mettham said her business lost more than 50 percent of its appointments that morning. The small chiropractor's office she owns with her husband, located at 48th Street and Chandler Boulevard, was not accessible to clients coming from Chandler or Maricopa. Clients from Ahwatukee appeared worried about the air quality.
"We didn't know whether to shut down our office or not," Mettham said. "I know a lot of the surrounding, bigger corporate offices were told to evacuate. We're a small business, and nobody came by our office to tell us to get out."
Mettham said that in the 10 years their company has been in its location, this is the first emergency to shut down Chandler Boulevard. She's not in favor of the Loop 202 extension, but emergencies like this do show a need for some sort of evacuation plan.
"We don't really want that 202 to come in because we want to keep Ahwatukee a tight-knit community," Mettham said. "There's pros and cons to that. We feel protected, but if something drastic like that happens it does make us hard to get to. We need some sort of emergency access to get out."
Greta Rogers, an Ahwatukee resident who has been heavily involved in the issues with the Loop 202 extension, said that if the Arizona Department of Transportation decides to build Loop 202 on the Pecos Road alignment it could allow emergencies like the tanker fire to happen closer to residential homes.
"At more than one public meeting they held it was asked what their plan was for a hazardous emergency occurring on the highway," Rogers said. "I'm thinking of a chlorine tanker or fuel tanker. Both are extremely volatile and dangerous. The fire department was there, and that's who the question was directed to. Whomever the captain was that came out at the time said, ‘We've got that all planned for, Mrs. Rogers.' I said, ‘Tell me what your plan is.' Well it would depend on the situation. In other words, they didn't have an answer."
Rogers said she doesn't mind if the Loop 202 is extended, but that the Arizona Department of Transportation needs to take a closer look at the recommendations for a different location, or at least make it a parkway that wouldn't allow trucks carrying dangerous materials to use it.
City Councilman Sal DiCiccio said he was on his way to a meeting when he heard about the crash on I-10. His niece's daughter goes to Horizon so he cancelled his meeting and turned back around to see if the school was OK, and if there was anything he, as the area's city councilman, could do to help. To his dismay it took close to 40 minutes to go back the way he had come, and the closest he could get was 56th Street and Chandler Boulevard.
"It was an eye-opening experience, it really was," DiCiccio said. "It makes me realize how dependant we are on it. There's really little we can do about that. We're very limited in our access in and out of Ahwatukee in emergencies like that."
DiCiccio did not wish to comment on the Loop 202 extension, but said he's glad the groups involved are talking.
For now, the Gila River Indian Community has agreed to send the decision on the freeway to the people. A vote is expected to take place sometime early next year.
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