It didn’t take long for many Ahwatukee homeowners to realize that the relatively quiet dark desert nights they’ve enjoyed since moving in are gone forever, shattered by last Saturday’s opening of the Congressman Ed Pastor Freeway.
And they’re not just posting their complaints to social media. The Arizona Department of Transportation is getting them too.
“Over sound level,” a resident of the fairly new Promontory community wrote ADOT. “Thank you ADOT, 202 and Governor Ducey for absolutely shortchanging us. This is opening day and it has already progressively gotten worse. Thank you for turning our piece or paradise into HELL. We as of today no longer want to spend time in our back yard already! Merry Christmas to us.”
Dietmar Hanke, a resident of the nearby Foothills Reserve subdivision, wrote AFN: So the L202 opened at 2 p.m. By 2:08 my dB meter registered 54 dB. Up significantly from the normal 32 dB noise level on my back porch. Peaks hit 63 and 64 dB. That’s a 1000 time increase of the sound pressure on my ear drums. The meter registered 71 dB right outside of (a neighbor’s) house. And all of this without any significant traffic yet. Can’t wait to hear the truck traffic when that builds up.”
Not all the immediate reaction to the freeway was negative.
Others took to social media to compliment ADOT on the “beautiful freeway” and praised it for coming in on budget.
“I took it around today nice ride beautiful scenery,” said one resident while another posted “It’s so nice” and another wrote, “Sweet!”
But others expressed unhappiness, noting, “extremely noisy back in the Foothills” – to which another resident posted, “I know us too. Not any more. Really sad.”
Added another: “It will be so much nicer when they have all of the landscaping done. The road looks patched in places. I agree that’s its convenient but it seems like they rushed to get it open. I can tell you that it is loud from my backyard.”
The glare from freeway lights and the unstoppable noise confirmed the worst fears of people living in parts of Ahwatukee closest to the freeway.
During the federal lawsuit aimed at stopping the freeway, plaintiff's experts predicted that half the projected 114,000 vehicles that will be using the freeway would be trucks. ADOT put the estimated truck traffic at 10 percent, saying the MAG regional travel demand model "forecasts approximately 10 percent truck traffic on the South Mountain Freeway in 2035. The forecasted truck traffic is based on existing traffic studies and projected socioeconomic data. This percentage is similar to current traffic conditions on I-10 between Loop 101 and I-17 and on US 60."
Even before the 22-mile freeway opened, residents who expected the noise complained incessantly to ADOT and members of the Legislative District 18 delegation about the glare of the freeway’s lights.
Asked by AFN about those complaints, ADOT Director John Halikowski said:
“These are LED lights we put up and we’ve had some experience before where we put them in and they are too bright and it has to do with the temperature of the lights. And where they have been too bright at a 4,000 Kelvin level, we’ve gone down to a 3,000 level.
“So, we’re looking into a combination of the light brightness and shielding to see what we can do about that.”
State Sen. Sean Bowie and Reps. Mitzi Epstein and Jennifer Jermaine have held several meetings with ADOT officials in the past two months to discuss the lights issue.
Jermaine said she was told at a meeting two days before the freeway press conference that ADOT had ordered light shields but that the supplier was behind schedule in its delivery.
She said ADOT officials told her they had stressed to the supplier the urgency of delivering the shields.
Epstein said at one meeting in the fall, “I recall that an ADOT leader had explained that the process for light shields has been to put them up in a batch process after they collect complaints from neighborhoods. That is, the standard light installation process does not include the light shields. That surprised me because by and large, I find ADOT to be trying very hard to help neighbors have a good quality of life near highways.”
“When I heard ADOT folks say that they were waiting to install the light shields, I said something to the gist of ‘As representative of the people in Ahwatukee living along the highway, and for all Arizonans who live along highways, please stop that. Doesn’t it make more sense to just put up the light shields every time you install a light, if there is a neighborhood there? When houses are nearby, the light shields are needed and families should not have to wait.”
In photos and emails, residents complained of their backyards awash in light in the dead of night from the freeway lights.
“The good news is that now, with all of the freeway lights on, you don’t need any light to read a newspaper in your backyard at night,” said Hanke of his Foothills Reserve home. “Memories of living in El Segundo next to LAX are stirring in my gray matter.”
While the noise likely has become a permanent part of life along the freeway, residents in Calabria and Promontory at the far western end of Ahwatukee have been pressing ADOT about its decision not to extend the sound wall farther west.
Homeowners in Promontory knew a freeway was coming. In fact, it already was under construction when Taylor Morrison began erecting the community's 105 homes, of which only five remain to be sold.
They said the builder told them they could trust ADOT to suppress the noise.
But Promontory residents discovered that noise was but one problem the freeway would cause.
And after dozens of exchanges with Connect202Partners and ADOT, Koenen said, the highway agencies “can’t tell the truth to save their lives.”
Last month, one homeowner emailed Halikowski and other state and Phoenix officials, writing:
“In the 18 months as an Arizonan, the state (and by proxy of yourselves) gifted us with blasting, crushing, lighting and construction traffic in the subdivision,” he wrote. “We have been plagued with gawking, detours and even full road closures. And we endured it because we trusted you.”
Instead of following its initial plan to extend the sound wall past Promontory and into the mountains where no homes exist, Connect202Partners ended it at a point barely halfway parallel to Promontory – exposing homeowners to the glare of eastbound freeway traffic and doing nothing to muffle the noise, they said.
Connect202 told Promontory residents that its sound engineers determined that the noise in the section of the freeway with no sound wall is below a 62-decibel threshold – the maximum permissible level before sound suppression would be required by law.
ADOT and Connect202Partners also said they would send sound engineers back once the freeway opened to determine if the noise got worse.
In a Nov. 6 email to Promontory homeowners, Connect202Partners community liaison Gabriella Kemp also wrote that the consortium of contractors was within its right to terminate the sound wall where it did.
“The modifications to the noise wall are compliant with the noise policy and are allowed under the Design-Build Maintain Agreement (DBMA) with C202P.” Kemp wrote. “The DBMA also allows C202P to make reasonable changes during final design throughout the project corridor, all of which are reviewed by ADOT to verify all environmental commitments are met.”
When one homeowner suggested that ADOT delay the freeway opening until the wall issue was resolved, Kemp replied:
“The project was approved by Maricopa County voters in 1985 and reaffirmed in 2004 as part of a comprehensive regional transportation plan. ADOT has undergone extensive environmental reviews to deliver this long-awaited project to the traveling public. That said, the State will not delay the opening of the project.”
Asked about the noise complaints, Halikowski told AFN last week, “We’re aware of the issue and we’ve taken some measurements so far. I’ve talked with the engineers and we will continue to look at this. We’ll have a better idea after it opens up the traffic, but we’ll continue to take a look at that and see how that process develops.”
Asked what it would have cost to extend the wall in the first place, he replied, “You know, I don’t that figure.”
Promontory residents have put up with noise long before the first set of tires started rolling across the freeway.
For months, they said, the seemingly endless sounds of rock being crushed as crews burrowed through three mountain peaks has disturbed the neighborhood’s peace and quiet.
And when crews weren’t crushing rock, they were blasting their way through the mountainous terrain.
And that blasting also has resulted in cracks in some of their walls, garage floors and walks and driveways, residents said.
They have had so many meetings and email exchanges with ASDOT and Connect202 that Monica Barnett complained, “I didn’t realize I would have a full-time job that I’m not getting paid for trying to get people who are getting paid to do the right thing.”
Several homeowners have been asking for claims forms for damages to their new homes.
“Every single wall in my house has cracks and every single window has separate,” Barnett wrote officials a month ago. “These are not settling cracks. This is all due to blasting as they were not there before. “
“I guess we are just too naïve and wanted to have faith that everything ADOT and 202Partners put out there for everyone to believe that they are working for the betterment of the people,” Barnett added.
Their frustration has grown to the point where they asked ADOT and Connect202Partners to buy their houses.
Kemp replied, “ADOT has completed all right-of-way acquisitions for this project and has no plans to purchase additional parcels.”
“It is unfortunate you feel ADOT has not been transparent, as that is not the case,” she added. “We strive to maintain the highest level of integrity. We are accountable to the people of Arizona and, as such, must be diligent in our decision making.”