open road

The Arizona Department of Transportation wants you to vote for an award for the South Mountain Freeway so it can give the $10,000 prize one of the highway’s biggest opponents – the Gila River Indian Community.

ADOT last week said it will give the money for scholarships for 10 members of the Gila River Indian Community if it wins the national America’s Transportation Awards competition. Anyone can vote from among 12 finalists for the coveted award.

ADOT Director John Halikowski praised the “increasingly positive and cooperative partnership” between ADOT and the Gila River Indian Community in announcing that ADOT would provide 10 scholarships of $1,000 each for students to use at a college, university or trade school if the South Mountain Freeway wins the national award.

“I can think of no better cause and use of this money than supporting educational opportunities for Community members,” Halikowski said. 

That wasn’t the tune Halikowski was singing five years ago when the community and the Ahwatukee-based Protect Arizona’s Resources and Children tried to stop it in its tracks in a two-year federal court fight.

Part of the GRIC opposition involved the freeway’s impact on residents’ health but another involved its desecration of sacred grounds, including South Mountain.

The community also had residents vote nearly 10 years ago on a realignment of the freeway when it was still in the planning stages.

Residents voted against moving the highway south to its current path onto the reservation.

The $1.7-billion South Mountain Freeway, the largest project ever managed by ADOT, was selected as the first-place winner for innovation and use of technology in the West region of the America’s Transportation Awards judging. 

The project is now among the 12 finalists competing for two separate awards -- the Grand Prize and the People’s Choice Award. Both awards come with a $10,000 prize for a charity or scholarship of the winner’s choosing. 

Anyone can vote for the South Mountain Freeway for the People’s Choice Award. Votes can be cast online through Oct. 25. Voting is permitted once every 24 hours.

An independent panel of transportation industry experts will select the Grand Prize winner. Winners in both categories will be announced in November. People can vote at

A diverse array of projects are competing in the contest, sponsored by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, AAA and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Though the South Mountain Freeway cost $1.7 billion, it’s not the most expensive project in the running.

That honor belongs to the state of Washington’s $3.3 billion State Route 99 tunnel, which replaced the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle.

The freeway is one of only two new highway construction projects. 

And not all the projects involve highways, although Ohio, Wisconsin, New Jersey and Virginia made the list with major highway repair or bridge projects.  Hawaii got a nod for fixing the only road between two towns in Kauai that had been washed on by landslides triggered by a 50-inch rainfall two years ago.

One project involves a $10 million, 22-mile Riverwalk in Georgia. 

 North Carolina is in the running for a $2 million project that deploys drones to deliver lab tests and specimens to clinics and hospitals while Pennsylvania’s work zone speed enforcement program – the only contestant without a dollar value attached to it – is a finalist.

 Minnestota’s $5 million “automated vehicle challenge” is in the running, as is Connecticut’s $400,000 effort to promote connectivity.

Two other ADOT projects won top honors in regional competitions for America’s Transportation Awards, which included 79 projects nominated by 36 departments of transportation across the country. 

The I-10/SR 87 Interchange Reconstruction including I-10 Dust Detection System near Eloy won first place for Operations Excellence, Medium Project. 

The SR 347 Overpass at Union Pacific Railroad in Maricopa took first place for Quality of Life/Community Development.

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