I received a postcard in the mail several weeks ago announcing a public hearing on May 21 to provide an opportunity for the public to provide comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Study on the proposed South Mountain Freeway. None of my neighbors received the same postcard when I talked to them. Why were some of the public left out of the mailing? They may not have been informed of this public hearing, but I have comments to make.
I was one of the first home buyers, 25 years ago in 1988, who moved to the Ahwatukee Foothills area. At that time I was informed, from my builder, that there could possibly be a future freeway put in within two years, before 1992. It would go around South Mountain, but they didn’t know when in the future it would happen, where it would be constructed, how it would be laid out, or even who would pay for it.
Since then, multiple builders were allowed to build and build all during the 1990s without regard or restrictions to any future freeway plans. The city building department of Phoenix, the state of Arizona and the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) has never given guidelines to locate, designate or place restricted boundaries for a future freeway on any of these builders.
Now, Ahwatukee Foothills has a population well over 87,000 people and includes thousands of homes, numerous schools, parks, shopping centers, recreation facilities, a post office and several churches, all forming a prestigious cul-de-sac community. The lowest average home value starts at about $250,000.
The Draft Environmental Impact Study states that a total of between 733 to 1,304 homes and 30 to 41 businesses along the proposed freeway route will have to be removed. Before construction even starts, the removal of these homes and businesses has to be paid for first. These properties will have to be purchased at tax payer expense, which is much higher than land costs were 25 years ago. Purchases of these homes and businesses all along the proposed freeway route will balloon the tax payer costs to $2.6 hundred million. The costs to just purchase the land required is enormous and outrageous.
There are two serious undisclosed adverse effects and information lacking in the Draft Environmental Impact Study that has not been included or addressed at all. The agency is required to make clear that such incomplete and unavailable information is lacking in their report, and it does not.
1. The first issue deals with the amount of mining activity that went on in the South Mountain area. As elsewhere, Arizona is a huge mining state and there are years of discussions and speculations as the amount of mining activity that went on in the South Mountain area. There has not been any research or investigation into the possible mining activity in and around South Mountain. No environmental study has ever been done to prove, or disprove, or rule out the possibility of past mining in the South Mountain area affecting this proposed freeway.
Are there old mines and mine openings in this area dug by individuals and/or mining companies during the “turn of the century” rush to find gold and other minerals? Are there underground tunnels, mine shafts and openings in the pathway of this freeway? If so, where are these undisclosed mine shafts, where are the unknown underground tunnels and other openings affecting the building of this freeway?
Are we tax payers going to be responsible for millions of unknown costs to locate, fill and seal off these unidentified mines, tunnels and mine shafts? Could there be sink holes and other liabilities due to a possible unstable underground? Are these costs going to be another hidden expense to building this freeway? These questions were not even dealt with in the Draft Environmental Impact Study.
2. The second issue not addressed by the Draft Environmental Impact Study deals with Interstate 10 traffic.
The Draft Environmental Impact Study stated that, “the South Mountain 202 Freeway would be similar or the same as the other freeways in the Valley such as the 101, 143, 202, 303 and the 60 freeways. The other freeways are helpful in moving traffic only for the population around the Valley to and from work, shopping, etc. Benefits of these Valley freeways include enhanced access to and from employment opportunities and enhanced movement of goods and services for improved access to such goods and services for all population segments.” The Draft concludes: therefore, no secondary impacts would occur by building the South Mountain 202 Freeway.
That conclusion is grossly WRONG, because the proposed South Mountain 202 Freeway is unique in one way that other Valley freeways are not. This is not an extension of the 202 Freeway serving only the Phoenix Valley residences. It would connect the I-10 freeway in two locations: one on the west side of Phoenix and the other on the south side of Phoenix. This connection would give interstate and international drivers the access and opportunity to avoid and go around the metropolitan Phoenix area. The proposed South Mountain 202 Freeway would open up a huge shortcut or by-pass for all kinds of international and I-10 freeway traffic right through Ahwatukee Foothills and the Gila River Indian Community.
General driver behavior, especially by interstate truckers, would easily find the South Mountain 202 Freeway a shortcut or a by-pass, indeed, a great time saver shown on their GPS maps. All drivers who are not stopping to enjoy Phoenix would find this alternative route an obvious time saver.
Therefore, the impact of the South Mountain 202 Freeway for Ahwatukee Foothills would be disproportionately extreme. The community is built on slopping foothill elevations. The air pollution and noise levels from the added traffic would increase all over the area. Both noise and air pollution would be trapped up against the approximately 2,500-foot-high South Mountain range and be confined directly to Ahwatukee Foothills below.
Instead of air pollution being dissipated, the typical southwest winds would push and hold pollutants against the Foothills and the mountain would block them from being dispersed. Ahwatukee Foothills would become smog city, making it a less desirable place to live. This proposed freeway will drop property values due to the traffic, smog, noise and congestion.
The standard cure for noise pollution is the installation of freeway concrete noise abatement walls. These walls are somewhat successful on freeways with flat land behind them. They would do no good for the Ahwatukee Foothills community which is built stair-stepped up the Foothills.
Congestion today at the I-10 and the 202 connection next to the Wild Horse Pass Casino and new outlet mall is stop and go and gets worse for miles, in both directions, and especially for those going to Chandler, Maricopa and Sun Lakes. Local traffic would be worse, especially during rush hours and holidays and could be the length or more of Pecos Road. Adding more traffic using the proposed freeway short cut or by-pass would trap even higher amounts of traffic, fumes and noise in the surrounding communities.
As a member of Protecting Arizona’s Resources and Children (PARC), I find this proposed freeway extremely costly for tax payers and environmentally unsafe, and it is environmentally unjust to one area of the population, the residences of Ahwatukee Foothills. The Draft Environmental Impact Study is lacking, not legally complete, and has not done a through job of answering many major questions. The proposed South Mountain 202 Freeway has not been properly planned for over the last 25 years and there may be a certain amount of negligence and liability on the part of the city of Phoenix, the state of Arizona and ADOT.
• Carol Sampson has been a resident of Ahwatukee Foothills for 25 years.