There may be many things this year will be known for, but one thing is a certainty: In Ahwatukee, 2019 will be the Year of the Freeway.
If the Arizona Department of Transportation and South Mountain Freeway designer-builder Connhect202Partners figured accurately, motorists a year from now will be tooling along the eight-lane freeway instead of four-lane Pecos Road.
And Pecos Road will be no more than a memory, although cyclists and runners by then may also have a new multiuse path running along the freeway.
The $1.9 billion, 22-mile freeway – ADOT’s most expensive freeway project in history – will connect the Chandler and West 59th Avenue interchanges on I-10, offering motorists and an estimated 140,000 trucks a day to find an alternative to the congested freeway segment around downtown Phoenix.
Construction began in 2017 as a federal appeals court ended a long fight by Ahwatukee residents and the Gila River Indian Community to put the brakes on it.
Over the past year, crews have made major progress on the thoroughfare and finally began cutting through South Mountain.
In Ahwatukee, they began paving the freeway mainline between 17th Avenue and Desert Foothills Parkway and west of 40th Street to the I-10/Loop 202 interchange in Chandler; have nearly completed overpasses at 40th Street, 24th Street and 17th Avenue and started construction on the 32nd Street overpass; and began planning an interchange at 32nd Street that won’t be constructed until the rest of the freeway opens.
On the segment between Lower Buckeye Road to 51st Avenue, crews set the 292nd and final girder for the two half-mile Salt River bridges, the longest of some 40 bridges that will make up part of the freeway. They also opened the Elliot Road bridge to traffic in April with completion of the freeway’s first bridge and opened the Estrella Drive roundabout interchange following a six-month closure while laying down pavement between Estrella Drive to Olney Avenue in Laveen.
On the portion of the freeway that will cut through South Mountain, crews have started placing bridge foundations and began blasting along two ridges on the southwestern edge of the South Mountain Park to break large rock into smaller, more manageable pieces.
Work also has been underway at the far west reaches of the freeway, while some widening of I-10 in that area also has been undertaken.
Once the freeway opens, some dramatic changes in the Valley’s economy will follow, predicts CoStar, a commercial real estate analysis firm.
“The industrial sector will feel the most immediate impact,” it said in a post last year, noting the West Valley would be particularly impacted since “much of the traffic congestion on the I-10 has been caused by semi-trucks moving goods eastward.”
“Last-mile deliverers will likely view West Valley as a more viable location moving forward and will feel less pressure to establish operations somewhere in the East Valley. Conversely, logistics companies in East Valley will have easier access to the West Valley and major metropolitan areas in California,” CoStar said.
It also predicted that the region’s multifamily market will be impacted, noting:
“Areas of Phoenix that were somewhat hidden away, such as Laveen and Ahwatukee, will become more accessible to the rest of the metro. Housing demand is expected to increase in these bedroom communities and other areas near the freeway. Traditionally, most demand here comes from single-family homebuyers seeking a suburban lifestyle. But the South Mountain will become more convenient for renters in need of quick freeway access to major employment centers in the East Valley.”
CoStar said it was possible that the South Mountain Freeway will have the same impact that the Loop 202 Santan Freeway has had on Chandler and Gilbert.
“Originally, farm towns with an abundance of developable land, Chandler and Gilbert were transformed into dynamic economic engines in a relatively short period of time, and accessibility to and from these once remote areas of Phoenix could be viewed as the catalyst. Although the South Mountain area is more built out than the Southeast Valley was before the Price Freeway, plenty of developable sites remain, particularly in Estrella, Laveen and Ahwatukee,” it said.
It also noted that Estrella, Laveen and South Mountain Village offered lower rents and that they “could see spillover demand from those priced out of expensive East Valley submarkets.”
CoStar also suggested that once housing comes, retail won’t be far behind and that the freeway “could eventually spur the development of new shopping centers,” though it did not predict any significant office building development along its path.
“The South Mountain Freeway is an essential addition to Phoenix’s infrastructure in order for it to accommodate one of the fastest growing areas in the nation. However, its future impact on commercial real estate remains to be seen,” CoStar said.