A plan to turn Pecos Road into the new extension of the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway through Ahwatukee Foothills would mean the destruction of Mountain Park Community Church, but church officials say there's reason for optimism.
Discussions to move the proposed freeway's route south onto Gila River Indian Community land are encouraging, said Dave Swisher, the church's recently retired administrator. It also doesn't hurt that some local officials say they're against the Pecos Road alignment, as well.
Both Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio, whose district includes Ahwatukee Foothills, and newly elected U.S. Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) have both announced their opposition to the Pecos Road route.
"My preference would be for (the Arizona Department of Transportation) to work with the Gila River Indian Community to find a win-win," DiCiccio said. "If that doesn't occur, I'm totally fine with this freeway going away."
The freeway is unnecessary in Ahwatukee, he said.
"I don't see that as being a positive for our area," DiCiccio said. "We've got a great quality of life. It's been like this for a number of years, and it's fine."
The planned 22-mile freeway extension has been in the works since the mid-1980s. Right now, the proposal calls for extending the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway west from Interstate 10 south along Pecos Road - which divides Ahwatukee Foothills from the Indian reservation - cutting through three ridges on the west side of South Mountain, and then shooting north to reconnect with I-10 near 59th Avenue on the west side of town.
The future freeway's route has not been finalized. Earlier this year, the Gila River Indian Community appeared to soften its historic opposition to any suggestion that the route be moved south of Pecos Road and onto reservation land. ADOT officials have said the agency is working on a 60-page preliminary evaluation of two new options.
Chad Blostone, an Ahwatukee Foothills Village Planning Committee member, said it's in Ahwatukee's interest to negotiate an agreement with the tribe.
"There's a strong case for the Gila River community taking the road. There are a large group of them that are interested in that," Blostone said. "The Pecos alignment puts a pretty significant amount of disruption of our community on us."
The Pecos Road route calls for the demolition of more than 100 homes and other area buildings, including Mountain Park Community Church, which has sat at 24th Street and Pecos Road for about a dozen years, Swisher said. If the church is forced to abdicate, ADOT has set aside some land for it on 48th Street south of Chandler Boulevard, he said.
"Basically ADOT has a site that's across from Horizon (Community Learning Center) that they've held for us in case the freeway goes in and we're taken out," Swisher said.
Juno Smalley, executive and discipleship pastor for the 1,500-member church, said ADOT won't be able to replace the church's vistas of South Mountain and the Sierra Estrella.
"I don't know how they're going to recreate this view," he said.
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