While a few Ahwatukee residents have strong opinions about the South Mountain Freeway (SMF) Loop 202, one way or the other, a majority are totally ambivalent about the road. Like most Valley residents, they are hoping for anything at all that will ease their commute by reducing stop-and-go congestion on the Interstate 10. Most of us have been paying an increased sales tax for transportation projects since 1985 and any tangible evidence of our money at work is gratifying. Since very little of Ahwatukee is south of Chandler Boulevard, the impact on most of us will be marginal.
Marginal impact pretty much sums up the SMF for Ahwatukee. It will replace Pecos Road with an elevated, eight-lane freeway costing $100 million per mile, with a 20-plus-foot sound wall along all the Ahwatukee portion and no access at 32nd Street. According to the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) studies, another thing it won’t impact is traffic congestion on I-10 from the Broadway Curve to Queen Creek Road. Very few people commute from Ahwatukee or the East Valley to Laveen or Tolleson, and the number is going down, not up like gas prices. Old data and questionable traffic simulations from ADOT paint a false picture of tremendous benefit to Valley commuters for this $2.5 billion road. Perhaps people in Laveen who desperately need access to the I-10 Papago Freeway and are being held hostage to the SMF will benefit. They have other more cost effective options. Unlike the Pima Freeway in Scottsdale, the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) is adamantly opposed to any SMF, and won’t even consider one on their land.
Others who will benefit are semi trucks, lots of them, from warehouses and trucking companies at each end. A tanker full of gasoline from the huge fuel depot at 51st Avenue heading to Mesa is not even allowed in the Deck Park Tunnel, but will pass within feet of our elementary and high schools. All these trucks, including ones to and from California and Texas, will now have a perfect route around downtown Phoenix, the SMF. This is the real purpose and need for this road according to ADOT, who rejected the concept of a truckless South Mountain Parkway years ago.
Maybe we should be thankful the SMF will only have marginal impacts, neither pro nor con. Ever wonder why pharmacies, convenience stores and gas stations get held up most frequently near the I-10? Or cars get stolen out of driveways nearer the I-10? Because it makes for a faster getaway, according to Phoenix police. The SMF will eliminate our world’s largest cul-de-sac, and criminals love that.
If you are fortunate enough to have a view to the south or west, or just enjoy the view while driving our neighborhoods, the brown cloud over the SMF will be no different than other Valley freeways, except it will be above a very unsightly 20-plus-foot sound wall. And who hasn’t awoken on a weekend morning by the sound of racing at distant Firebird? Sound carries. And truckers like to drive at night, every night.
Another thing that will be marginalized by the SMF is the rate of your home appreciation. Why would people move to Ahwatukee, when rush hour traffic will remain unchanged or worsen, and a huge truck route is just down the street. Most people move to Ahwatukee for the ambiance and schools. Ask your Realtor. What your Realtor probably hasn’t heard yet is the public health impact from bad air on hundreds of children in schools within a half mile of the SMF, including Desert Vista High School.
Another reason for a marginal impact is that a major road like this won’t even be started for three to five years and takes another five years to build. Does 2022 sound like a time frame for something you might use?
Protecting Arizona Resources and Children (PARC) is an Ahwatukee nonprofit started eight years ago to do cost-benefit analyses on the SMF. We recently turned in a 318-page report critical of the ADOT SMF Environmental Impact Statement. We will be surprised if they respond within three years, and they are required to respond, because our own consultants, engineering companies, lawyers, traffic analysts, economists, demographers, environmentalists and health experts have concluded pretty much what ADOT has already told us, the SMF will have a marginal benefit on traffic in Ahwatukee and on I-10. These experts and their reports don’t come cheap. We have the financial support of several Ahwatukee HOAs that are heavily impacted. But we’ll need more funding to put the SMF to bed by getting our day in court and having a federal judge order “No Build.” This road has been on the boards for 30 years and ADOT thinks it looks very nice on a map. All our information, reports, video interviews with our experts are on our website, www.protectazchildren.org.
If you would rather see your $2.5 billion spent, say widening the I-10 all the way to downtown, please look at our website and make a tax-deductible donation for more timely and cost effective ways to improve transportation in our community.
• Retired engineering manager Tim Lank is vice president of Protecting Arizona Resources and Children (PARC). He has lived in Ahwatukee for more than 20 years.