17014 S 26th St is the first home to be demolished for the Loop 202 expansion on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015.

[David Jolkovski/AFN]

A federal judge today rejected an effort by an Ahwatukee citizens group and the Gila River Indian Community to stop the controversial South Mountain Freeway.

In a 35-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Diane J. Humetewa said the tribe and Protect Arizona’s Resources and Children failed to prove the freeway posed a threat to children’s health as the result of increase air pollution or that it threatened land on South Mountain considered sacred by Native Americans.

PARC President Pat Lawlis decried the ruling and said her group would file an immediate appeal and a request that construction be stopped until the appeal is decided.

Noting that the judge said state and federal highway officials had wide latitude in applying environmental and other regulations on highway construction, Lawlis said, “The laws might as well not exist if the agencies are permitted to use discretion to the point of ignoring the intent of the applicable laws.”

The plaintiffs had asserted that the Arizona Department of Transportation could not put a highway through parkland unless it could show no feasible alternative and that that it would minimize harm to parkland.

The freeway will cut through approximately 31.3 acres of the Phoenix South Mountain Park Preserve.

Construction of the 22-mile roadway that provides I-10 traffic a detour around Downtown Phoenix is expected to begin no later than early next year.

State transportation department officials are expected to discuss the freeway design at a Village Planning Committee meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at Pecos Recreation Center.

Governor Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community expressed his disappointment with the ruling.

"The path of this freeway will destroy parts of South Mountain that for centuries have been among the Community’s most important and sacred natural resources," said Gov. Lewis. "This freeway will wipe out or significantly alter trails, shrines, and archaeological sites that are significant cultural resources for the Community and our members.

"To say our people are disappointed hardly expresses how deeply we feel about the potential loss of this sacred mountain range. This is simply unacceptable," he added.

The nearly $1-billion freeway project is the most expensive in Arizona history.

“This is a momentous day, not only for ADOT but for our many partners – including the city of Phoenix, the Maricopa Association of Governments and the Federal Highway Administration – who helped develop the most extensive environmental review of any highway project to date in Arizona. More importantly, this is a clear victory for the region, which will benefit from a new transportation corridor and, with it, the economic development that will follow,” ADOT Director John Halikowski said. 

This east-west alternative will connect people with employment, entertainment and educational centers in parts of the Phoenix metropolitan area that are projected to see considerable growth. The ruling today affirms the good work of the entire project team.”

Read the Ahwatukee Foothills News on Aug. 24 for more information.

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