As construction of the South Mountain Freeway continues speeding toward a late-2019 opening, the absence of an interchange at 32nd Street continues to nag some local officials.
The street was bypassed, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Transportation said, because citizens opposed it.
But then former state Rep. Bob Robson early last year called attention to an alarming fact: In the event of a major disaster, students at several nearby schools would have only one way out of the area, creating the potential for a dangerous traffic jam.
City Councilman Sal DiCiccio said he and Ahwatukee state legislators have had “multiple conversations with ADOT regarding putting in a ramp.”
Although DiCiccio and Ahwatukee legislators pressed – and got – an agreement to build a service road to provide an additional emergency route, ADOT said it is still open to building an interchange on the state’s most expensive highway in history – if it can find the money for it.
When asked about the interchange by AFN last week, ADOT spokesman Dustin Krugel said:
“While no final decision has been made, there have been several requests from the public and elected officials over the last 18 months to add a 32nd Street interchange to the South Mountain Freeway. ADOT remains committed to studying this idea in partnership with the Maricopa Association of Governments, the regional planning agency.”
But Krugel said that to start developing an interchange, “funding would have to be identified and an environmental review process would have to be followed, as with any other new project.
“The environmental review process would take approximately nine months, and a final decision would then be made on whether or not to move forward with constructing the 32nd Street interchange,” he added.
Some reports several years ago said ADOT skipped 32nd Street to avoid taking more houses.
Krugel said last week that when ADOT began its environmental impact study for the freeway in 2001, “traffic interchanges were considered at all major arterial crossings, including at 32nd Street.”
But he said the interchange was nixed four years later “after reviewing public input.”
“At the time, this decision was supported by the South Mountain Citizens Advisory Team, a committee of stakeholders formed to assist the project team in understanding public issues and concerns and the city of Phoenix and was communicated to the public at a November 2005 public meeting,” Krugel said.
The eight-lane, 22-mile freeway will connect the Chandler and 59th Street interchanges along I-10, giving motorists a detour around the heavily congested Horseshoe Curve and downtown Phoenix. Its $1.7 billion price tag makes it the most expensive highway project in state history.
Rande Leonard, owner of Pecos Storage, said five years ago that he was concerned about access to his business, which is located on the reservation side of 32nd Street.
Leonard said ADOT must create a bridge over 32nd Street, which would now cost at least $8 million.
Leonard said in 2013 that he began discussions with GRIC in 2000 and signed a 35-year lease in 2004 for its 27 acres of land.
DiCiccio said he still remains hopeful about an interchange.
“We are still waiting to see where they are on this,” he said. “I would not hold my breath, but, the conversations went very, very well.”