Editor’s note: This is part four of a continuing summer series on the proposed South Mountain Loop 202 Freeway.

While those opposed to the South Mountain Loop 202 Freeway site environmental concerns and displaced homes, those in favor site economic growth as the major reason why the freeway should be built. 

The Arizona Department of Transportation’s (ADOT) Draft Environmental Impact Study (DEIS) attempts to show that while there may be adverse effects on some communities along the South Mountain Freeway preferred route, the overall economic benefit of a freeway proves its necessity.

Studies show

Many studies have been done over the years to try and quantify the economic benefits a freeway may have on an area. A study commissioned by the American Highway Users Alliance in June of 1996 says that the Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways has enriched the quality of life for nearly every American and returned more than $6 in economic productivity for every $1 spent.

A study done by the Arizona Transportation Research Center in 2001 shows that property values actually increased along the route of the Superstition Freeway once it was built.

More recently in April of 2011, the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) had its own study done by the Elliott D. Pollack Company that compared GRIC to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian tribe and the Loop 101 to see how the Loop 202 might benefit the community. The results of the study were not widely shared but Joseph Perez, founder of Pangea Development, who was there when the company presented the results, said the study is not surprising. 

“Bottom line that report says the community is going to benefit exponentially, in jobs, tax revenue, economic opportunity, across the board if the freeway is on the reservation,” he said.

The study also says that the community will still benefit if the freeway were not on tribal land, but Perez believes the tribe is missing a greater opportunity leaving the freeway on Pecos.

“Where I think the community really loses with the current alignment is the E1 alignment, in our analysis, about 70 percent of that alignment the community could not benefit economically because geographically it’s either in the mountains or there is no access,” Perez said. “The other 30 percent is allotted land on frontage road with access. Under the current alignment the Pangea Development and the allotted land owners benefit the most.”

Perez and Pangea are attempting to develop the allotted land on the Gila River Indian Community. In order to develop the land they’ve been gathering the allottees together for years and discussing their plan for the City Concept. Perez hopes that by organizing the landowners they will be able to build amusement parks, a solar farm, retail businesses, restaurants, corporate offices, and even homes on land that is purely run by private enterprise.

The GRIC Landowners have petitioned the tribe to rescind the vote done in February of 2012 when the tribe voted “No Build,” but their petition has been held up for months fighting off accusations of fraud. Perez said he believes at this point the tribe has missed out.

“The community chose not to make that study public,” he said. “I think if they had made it public people may have thought differently about the vote. Now, they have really limited themselves to the economic development that can happen from the current alignment.”

Benefits of the Loop 101

The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Community (SRPM) has seen huge growth since allowing the Loop 101 onto community land. Community members there voted to approve the freeway, while twice GRIC has voted against it.

“The decision was not easy, the impact of dividing a section of our land by a freeway meant the encroachment by the cities,” said Janet Johnson, director of community relations for the SRPM. “On the other hand, the decision to move forward provided a contribution to the East Valley and state by the community, making the possible impact a positive decision.”

Since completion of the freeway in 2001, Johnson said the community has had to carefully balance economic needs with traditional values. They’ve been able to create several development areas including Calendar Stick, Pima Center, Riverwalk and Chaparral Business Park. They’ve welcomed several large companies like Cold Stone Creamery, Medicis, Rancho Solano Preparatory School, Global Rehab at Scottsdale Healthcare and Western International University.

“We have launched the Talking Stick Cultural and Entertainment Destination, which attracts locals and visitors to shop, dine, stay and enjoy entertainment at the Talking Stick Golf Club, Talking Stick Resort, Pavilions at Talking Stick, Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, Courtyard Marriott, Casino Arizona and the recently opened Butterfly Wonderland,” Johnson said. “The area provides ‘firsts’ for our community and across the U.S. among Native American tribes.”

One negative aspect of the freeway has been an increase in traffic on community streets during peak hours on the Loop 101, Johnson said.

Laveen reaps rewards

Ahwatukee Foothills was built with a knowledge of the freeway, but it seems many developers hoped it wouldn’t come to pass. The Laveen area has been preparing and waiting for the freeway for years and City Councilman Michael Nowakowski said the freeway is all that’s needed to help Laveen really take off development-wise.

Over the years Nowakowski, who has been on the Phoenix City Council for seven years, said he has spoken to several groups ready to build a hospital and medical center, and one group ready to develop a mall once the freeway is built. All of those plans are included in the city’s General Plan, which is updated every 10 years.

Each developer has said they need a certain population to justify their development and Laveen alone does not have enough people. Once a freeway is built to connect the West Valley with the East Valley, the development will come.

Nowakowski estimates that the hospital and mall may come before the freeway. Once the final route is set, they’re ready to break ground. The development may not be happening in Ahwatukee, but the entire region will benefit from the new facilities, he said.

“Instead of going to Tempe or the reservation to go shopping, retail will come to Laveen,” he said. “People will be able to jump on the freeway and be five or 10 minutes away from a mall just around the curve of the mountain. When people shop Phoenix it benefits all of Phoenix. The more we can get residents to shop in Phoenix the more we benefit.”

Ahwatukee residents will also benefit from spending less time on the road, according to some officials.

“There’s a phenomenal number of benefits this freeway delivers, the least of which is ingress and egress for the citizens of Ahwatukee,” said Roc Arnett, president of the East Valley Partnership. “It gets them in and out of their community quicker. It gets them home sooner because the traffic will be eased. The economic benefit will be there because they will be home to see Johnny’s T-ball game and Suzie’s dance practice, so the economic benefit will be because they can get to and from home quicker and easier.”

The DEIS estimates that trip times may increase up to 88 percent between 2010 and 2035 if the South Mountain Freeway is not built. Building the freeway would distribute commuters over additional facilities and reduce delays. 

Jobs and commerce

The construction if the freeway is expected to create 30,000 jobs. Once the construction is complete experts estimate the development along the freeway will bring even more permanent jobs. It will be a $2 billion investment in the Valley.

ADOT has already been investing in the project for years. Since 1986, one year after the project was approved by voters, the state has been purchasing land along the right of way for the freeway. More than $4.1 million has been spent on acquisitions in the eastern portion alone.

The funding has been approved twice by voters and according to a new poll recently commissioned by We Build Arizona, a majority of Maricopa County voters still approve of the freeway, including in the Ahwatukee and Laveen areas.

That’s why the project is supported by the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce and the East Valley Partnership.

“I believe economic recovery is probably going to take its slow turn whether or not the freeway is built, but it will speed up economic recovery,” Arnett said. 

The 1996 study on interstate highways names four benefits of interstate highways: less expensive land became more accessible and encouraged development, travel time reliability made “just in time” delivery more feasible and reduced warehousing costs, the interstate system increased retail competition by broadening the range and options of shoppers, and the highway system has helped companies supply their products to much larger geographical areas less expensively. 

Perez said he believes those benefits could apply to the South Mountain Freeway some day.

The Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce has not taken a position on the freeway. The chamber has always been involved through the South Mountain Citizen’s Advisory Team and as part of that group they’ve been asked to submit a recommendation to ADOT to build or not build the freeway. While the chamber doesn’t usually take a position on public matters, but tries to focus more on being a source of information for the community, they are expected to discuss the item further during the next Board of Directors meeting on July 10. 

“Pros would be more people would be able to come into the community, bringing tax dollars and visiting our local restaurants and stores and utilizing services here,” said chamber president and CEO Anne Gill. “Cons are if there’s a freeway a lot of businesses, especially on 32nd Street, have problems with access being cut off. With businesses coming out of a tough economy and things starting to go in a positive direction it would not be in their best interest to have construction limiting access. That and having businesses that need to come down as part of building the freeway. There will be less sales tax and property tax collected in Ahwatukee.”

Gill said if the freeway was built the chamber would do all it could to have signage created along the freeway to alert drivers of services. They’d also work with the state to become an official destination for tourism information.

The DEIS mentions nine businesses that would be displaced in Ahwatukee. Gill said none of those businesses have reached out to the chamber for assistance.

The South Mountain Freeway is designed to complete the regional transportation system. It’s that regional approach that’s important to remember when considering the freeway’s benefits, Nowakowski said.

“I think in 1985 the people who voted for the freeway system were looking into the future,” he said. “If we would have acted on it then, the freeway would have been built. Sometimes you don’t want to make changes because we think changes might interrupt the quality of life we experience now, but if we look into the future and a regional approach to the county instead of just our neighborhood it makes it much better for everyone. It’s better for the environment. It’s better for the quality of life for everyone. This whole freeway is about looking at a regional approach to transportation. We really need to look into the future and build it now.”

Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com.

(1) comment

Blair Houghton

“I think in 1985 the people who voted for the freeway system were looking into the future,”

and, not being clairvoyant, totally failed to understand how this portion of the project would be corrupted by those interested in the massive amount of money to be made by tearing down mountains and houses and schools and churches to place the road on a path that is 100% wider and 200% louder and 500% more polluted and 70% less valuable than they voted for. They didn't even vote for this, they voted for a whole freeway system, and all they saw to vote on was a map of the entire region with a loop on it, no details about what trouble each segment would cause, no indication that this small corner of the map would be disastrously misplanned and eventually rushed into production.

I'm not sure why an "Environmental Impact" statement cares at all about the creation of economic opportunities as a benefit. That shift in the meaning of "environment", from concerns about pollution and wildlife and water and a fragile ecosystem to hyping the benefits for the pockets of a few business owners - which will primarily be large construction companies and national chain stores, not local entrepreneurs - is indicative of how corrupt the planning has become. The report isn't an honest evaluation of impact, it's a sales brochure, gauged to alter public perception and state justification to meet the developer's expectations.

That vote in 1985 has lost its validity over time. This is no longer about the will of the voters and is now all about eminent domain, the ability of the government to force individuals to suffer damage against their will, and the ability of financially powerful parties to warp government decisions to maximize and hasten their own profit.

As the man once said, all they're doing is collecting the pound of flesh we bargained to pay.

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