South Mountain Freeway interchange

ADOT initially opted not to build an interchange for the South Mountain Freeway at 32nd Street, citing community opposition and the reluctance to condemn more houses.

If the Arizona Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration just based their decision to add a South Mountain Freeway interchange at 32nd Street largely on citizen reaction, the proposal would win hands down.

A review of more than 1,400 emails and website comments sent by Ahwatukee residents to the agency last spring shows the vast majority approve of the plan, with some urging it be built now rather than after the freeway opens late next year.

“I worked for decades in traffic law and enforcement, and I am gravely concerned about the plan to construct the new freeway without an interchange at 32nd St.,” wrote one commenter, warning that traffic to the schools near 32nd Street “would flood neighborhoods already suffering from traffic issues” and that “40th Street would become tremendously busy and nearby intersections are not engineered for this huge change.”

As it is, ADOT spokesman Dustin Krugel said, “It’s important to note that public involvement is just one piece of the environmental review process that will ultimately determine whether an interchange is built.” He added no final decision is likely now before September.

Concern for traffic and the schools dominated the comments, which ADOT accepted for about two months.

ADOT originally had planned to include exit and entrance ramps at 32nd Street for the 22-mile, eight-lane link between the Chandler and West 59th Street interchanges on I-10.

But it said it discarded that plan because a citizens advisory group opposed it and that it would have required taking more houses.

Earlier this year, the agency resurrected it along with a proposal to add another interchange in Laveen.

“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,” Krugel explained in January

One significant change between the interchange’s cancellation and its revival is a determination that ramps could be built without the need to take more houses, though some residents whose homes are only a few hundred feet – at most – from the ramps’ location remain concerned about noise, safety and other issues.

The estimated cost of building the interchange would be about $10 million – a small sum compared to the $1.7 billion cost of the freeway, the most expensive highway project in Arizona history.

In response to a request by the Ahwatukee Foothills News, ADOT released the emails and comments made directly on its website, redacting any personal information such emails and phone numbers.

Numerous people who wrote the agency identified themselves as Lakewood residents. And most of them urged the interchange’s construction.

“As I concerned member of the Lakewood Community, I wanted to write a formal letter supporting the 32nd St Interchange on the new Loop 202,” one person wrote. “There are several reasons but first and foremost is safety for my family and community.

Lakewood Parkway which connects 32nd Street and 40th Street, would be the main avenue for residents who live near 32nd street from a 40th St exit. Lakewood Parkway is a quiet street of 25 mph where children and adults frequent. There is also an elementary school located on it. As it is, cars speed excessively through this area which they are finally only now going to fix.”

The writer said, “Cars frequently speed and crash into walls of homes located on the loop as well. Once those speed deterrents are in place, the traffic that will ensue from extra traffic ‘passing through’ will be detrimental to the safety and comfort of our community. As it is, the freeway has already disrupted this comfort. I implore you to use not only facts but common sense when making your decision… We have such a precious community, please consider our best interest.”

Another proponent of the interchange identified himself as a tenant at Pecos Storage, a 9-year-old complex located on reservation land at the southern end of 32nd Street.

“I am just one person of over thousands that use the Pecos Storage facility,” he wrote, explaining that without an interchange, he would have to travel “through multiple neighborhoods and at least two school zones with a 37 foot 5th wheel, two cargo haulers, a utility trailer and a boat plus the big truck that pulls them, and sometimes multiple times a day.

“Not only is it an inconvenient awful access for me and all of the other people who use this facility and same route, it is a potential danger for the school zones and neighborhoods,” he added, saying “road surfaces would take a hit with the overuse of neighborhood streets” by motor homes, boat-towing trucks and “anything that can be driven or pulled.”

Pecos Storage owner Rande Leonard said that with his business located between interchanges only at 24th and 40th streets, his customers would be hauling boats, trailers and motor homes through residential streets to get to his complex.

That doesn’t mean he’d lose customers, he said, noting that many of them live in Ahwatukee and his complex is the only one in the area that can accommodate such large vehicles.

Such concerns prompted many commenters to plead for the interchange.

“I am certain the residents of Lakewood do not want to see their nice neighborhoods trampled with this ‘extra auto clutter,’” one wrote. “Don’t you think the freeway itself is enough damage already?

“And then there is the emergency access for this huge population of commercial tenants and residents,” the commenter continued. “The closest true hospital is all the way in Chandler. Any emergency vehicles would have to weave and navigate through the same clutter of neighborhood streets instead of just jumping on to the freeway.

“This is a vital cross street in Ahwatukee and it must have an interchange access to 202. The thought that it is questionable is absurd. PLEASE MAKE THIS INTERCHANGE HAPPEN!”

Said another, “This is a safety issue, as well as a traffic flow necessity. You will not have another chance to get this right.”

Still another wrote, “Traffic patterns are established that serve the residents in the area well. I live in Lakewood, I see the multiple uses for Lakewood Parkway that will be adversely affected by the lack of an interchange at 32nd Street.”

Despite the nearby presence of Desert Vista High School and several Kyrene elementary and middle schools, the governing boards did not appear to register any formal comment to ADOT.

But Lakewood residents wrote of their concerns for the students’ safety, with one noting, “Lakewood Parkway is also the training path for DV High School’s boys and girls track teams. In the mornings 100+ high school kids are running in the bike lanes. If traffic patterns change and Lakewood Parkway becomes a thoroughfare, it will put these students in danger.”

The Lakewood HOA board in January conducted a formal traffic study to count the number of vehicles using Lakewood Parkway.

It reported to residents that for the most part, more than 3,000 used the parkway during morning and evening rush hours.

That prompted one commenter to note: “There are 2000+ families in Lakewood and many of them use Lakewood Parkway for exercise, and it is the main access to the green belt. There are several community events in the green belt every year. Attendance is in the 100s, all accessing the greenbelt from Lakewood Parkway.

“Every age group walks, jogs, bikes, skates on Lakewood Parkway. It is a shady, low traffic zone, with only residents in the neighborhood on the roads.

“Changing the traffic patterns to make Lakewood Parkway a thoroughfare is going to result in more accidents and make it more difficult and less desirable to use as a recreation space. An intersection at 32nd street maintains the current traffic flows.”

Another said the parkway “serves the community for uses beyond car traffic. It is not designed to be a thoroughfare and is a natural place for the community to use on foot and for other traffic besides cars.

“Removing the intersection at 32nd Street takes away from the advantages and provides nothing to off-set the loss.”

Some commenters opposed the interchange, mainly because of its cost.

“The only reason some people use Pecos now is that Pecos Road is the path of least resistance if they are coming from deeper inside of Ahwatukee,” one wrote. “There is no logical reason that would substantiate the cost of putting an Interchange at the 32nd Street location basically for the use of such a small number of students and community members.”

Another conceded that it made sense in some respects, “BUT building the interchange is just not a prudent use of limited funds and resources to serve such a small number of individuals with very limited retail.”

Yet, another said, “It would be cheaper to maintain 32nd St. access now rather than having to jump through hoops when your cost saving idea turns into a political fiasco.”

Then there were concerns voiced by homeowners who said they live within a stone’s throw of the interchange site.

“Our walls are not that high and the road is very close to our house,” one wrote. “If cars veer off, they will crash into our house. It is about safety, not sound. We will have traffic in our backyard. A lot of trees and vegetation.”

Even though that individual wrote “do need exit at 32nd Street,” the writer added, “Also dig the exit lanes lower into the dirt for privacy and sound. Slow down speed by the high school.”

Said another, “We need a separation wall between our HOA community block wall and the proposed 32nd St interchange. I do not feel that there is sufficient protection from the off ramp and a vehicle colliding into my back wall. There needs to be a safety barrier to protect my property.”

While ADOT will make its recommendation to the feds, they will have the final say on whether to build or not.

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