Loop 202: The same old dance to a new tune - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Opinion

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Loop 202: The same old dance to a new tune

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Mark J. Scarp is a contributing columnist for the Tribune. Reach him at mscarp1@cox.net.

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Posted: Thursday, January 19, 2012 2:00 pm

In an East Valley Tribune article published six years ago, Maricopa County Treasurer David Schweikert looked back to the history of one freeway and into the future, where today a similar raging battle over another freeway is likewise upending the lives of thousands.

Schweikert, a former state legislator, probably wouldn't have predicted on Jan. 15, 2006, that by Jan. 15, 2012, he would be starting his second year as a congressman representing a district where the planned South Mountain Freeway route is located.

But here's something he correctly predicted, according to that 2006 story by the Tribune's Garin Groff about the route of the planned South Mountain (Loop 202) Freeway: "My fear is it will be a will be a dance for a very long time."

Just before reporting this, Groff quoted Schweikert as saying he respected the Arizona Department of Transportation's efforts to try to decide the South Mountain's route by 2007, but said that wasn't likely to happen due to, as Groff described them, "conflicting political interests."

Which is where it is today. Just as south Scottsdale residents suffered in the late 1980s with the seemingly endless delays in deciding where the Pima (Loop 101) Freeway would be located - in Scottsdale along Pima Road or a few hundred yards east on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community - Ahwatukee Foothills residents are feeling the same anguish.

Members of the Gila River Indian Community are to vote next month on whether to move the freeway route - which for years has been along the Pecos Road alignment - on tribal land to the south.

But Scottsdale's experience 25 years ago is a warning to today's Ahwatukee residents who think saving their houses and other structures in the community is the supreme and most satisfying end. You might win the battle, but you might also lose the war.

At that time I was covering Scottsdale for a weekly newspaper and, later, the former daily Scottsdale Progress. Residents won the battle over the 101's route after years of painful waiting that had no real end in sight until it actually happened. Usually pro-development leaders such as then-Scottsdale Mayor Herb Drinkwater worked to save the homes, even if it meant no opportunity for his city to gain business-building opportunities along the new freeway.

The long-sought good news was that the freeway would be built entirely on tribal land from the Salt River to just south of Shea Boulevard. Along the way, homeowners moved out and home values dropped while many houses started to deteriorate from lack of upkeep.

Anti-freeway activist Jane White told Groff in 2006 that it was "the slow death of a thousand cuts."

Today, the look of the neighborhoods along south Scottsdale's eastern border has markedly improved. But most residents along the Salt-River-to-Shea corridor have daily rush-hour traffic noise to contend with from a freeway about a quarter-mile away.

A sound wall was erected along Pima Road from McDowell Road to the Arizona Canal. It helps muffle the traffic sound but obliterates the gorgeous mountain views residents once enjoyed.

And for Scottsdale taxpayers, millions of dollars of potential sales-tax revenue traveled east to the Salt River tribe as well. Today, upscale office complexes, a couple of retail power centers, plus a big-league baseball training facility with room for surrounding retail and dining development are all a tantalizing few home-run baseballs' distance away.

Sound like a victory to you? Those who remained got to stay in their houses, and this is not to minimize the importance of that. But no home is an island, unless it's on an island. The enjoyment of a home is significantly related to what surrounds it. Even if you live in Shangri-La, you have to leave Shangri-La sometime.

You could argue that residents of both communities had reasonable warning about what might happen to their properties. But too many potential homebuyers rely too much on a single source for information: Real estate agents who represent and seek to please sellers and might leave out embarrassing and possibly deal-breaking details like "oh yeah, a freeway might go through your backyard."

Gila River tribal members may see an opportunity the Salt River tribe did to acquire an economic-development engine beyond gaming - an important step all tribes seeking more self-reliance would likely consider with care. Or they may hold to traditional views about their land and reject plans to move the freeway there.

Will the tribal vote be the last word? Good question.

So many Ahwatukee residents are in similar positions to those of Scottsdale folks years ago: Go? Stay? Stay, then go? It's difficult to make decisions where there aren't enough answers. And the questions keep changing.

The dance goes on for all those involved: ADOT, tribal members, Ahwatukee Foothills residents.

It may end up being a game of musical chairs.

• Mark J. Scarp is a contributing columnist for the Ahwatukee Foothills News and East Valley Tribune. Reach him at mscarp1@cox.net.

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