Smaller freeway means fewer homes demolished - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Topstory

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Smaller freeway means fewer homes demolished

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Posted: Friday, April 2, 2010 11:00 pm

For Ahwatukee Foothills, scaling back the proposed South Mountain Loop 202 from 10 lanes to eight means an estimated 167 homes will remain standing.

But the almost $2 billion project will still take out 120 homes and one church.

And while the Arizona Department of Transportation is rapidly moving forward with a draft environmental impact report, questions remain about how the construction would impact the area.

“What’s going to happen to the entrance to the Foothills Preserve and Calabrea?” asked Jim Wesley, who represents the Foothills Reserve HOA on ADOT’s South Mountain Citizen Advisory Team.

“Our thought is that the city of Phoenix would come in and build Chandler Boulevard,” said Ben Spargo, one of the engineers working on the project.

But with the city coffers empty, and state funding also in the red, Wesley wasn’t convinced that anyone has the money to build Chandler Boulevard in the near future.

“The whole access to our community will change, but nobody has a preliminary plan,” to handle it, he said after the advisory team meeting Monday night.

The narrower footprint for the freeway prompted Mike Hinz from Club West and other advisory team members to ask if instead of being built at or above ground level, the freeway could be depressed, like most other Valley freeways.

But Spargo said that would mean more homes demolished to build additional water retention areas, plus the added cost of pumps to move water out of a low-lying freeway.

Saving money and speeding up the process are two major goals for ADOT.

The cost of the freeway had ballooned from around $1 billion to more than $2.5 billion, while sales tax revenues plummeted, creating a $6 billion gap.

By scaling back the scope of the project and slightly changing the route in the west, ADOT has cut the estimated cost to $1.9 billion.

The project was first proposed in 1985 to connect Interstate 10 in Ahwatukee Foothills, travel west, cut through a corner of South Mountain Park and several ridges in South Mountain, then north to reconnect with I-10, now around 59th Avenue.

After sitting dormant for years, the current planning process resumed in 2002.

“The time for talk is just about over. We’ve got to move on this,” said Tim Tait, a spokesman for ADOT.

He told the advisory team that the draft environmental impact statement might be made public in early 2011.

While ADOT is moving forward with Pecos Road as the preferred route for the eastern segment of the freeway, it is also meeting with the Gila River Indian Community to examine possible alternative routes south of Pecos Road the wouldn’t cut through South Mountain, which the tribe considers sacred.

“The tribal council has twice voted against a freeway and (no build) is their position,” Tait said.

But while the tribe doesn’t want South Mountain altered to make room for the freeway, its members also understand it will probably be built, so Tait read a carefully worded message, indicating that engineers and the tribe have been meeting to examine possible alternative routes, south of Pecos.

Tait also stressed that while planning is moving forward with Pecos Road as the preferred route, a last-minute offer by the Gila River Indian Community would still be considered.

“We have a lot of process ahead of us. Should an alternative be advanced, even late in the process, it will be studied,” Tait said.

First designed three decades ago, the freeway was included in the Valley’s transportation plan but sat on hold when funding dried up in the early 1990s. Now it is considered a priority, despite funding shortfalls that have put other freeways on hold.

Fore more information, or to see aerial maps of where the freeway will go, visit www.SouthMountainFreeway.com.

 

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