The South Mountain Freeway has an official name.
The new 22-mile thoroughfare connecting the Chandler and W. 59th Street interchanges on I-10 will be named the Congressman Ed Pastor Freeway.
The Arizona State Board on Geographic and Historic Names last week voted the name change requested by Democratic Rep. Diego Espinoza of Tolleson with support from the Pastor family.
The one abstention was cast of the member representing the Arizona Department of Transportation “because she didn’t feel it was appropriate for her to vote on a state highway name,” said State Archivist Dr. Dennis Preisler, who chairs the board.
“Congressman Pastor was instrumental in acquiring resources for Arizona’s transportation projects, which have helped our state and our economy grow,” Espinoza said in a release, adding:
“At the same time, he has inspired many Arizonans, including myself, through his lifelong commitment to justice, equality and public service, so this is an honor that is much deserved.”
The release by the Arizona House Democratic Caucus also quoted Verma Pastor, the late congressman’s widow, as noting her husband “believed transportation initiatives were vital to a growing community.”
Pastor was the first Mexican-American from Arizona elected to Congress, where he served for 23 years.
As a longtime member of the House Appropriations Committee, the state Democratic Caucus said, “Pastor played a vital role in funding and building the Valley’s transportation system, including freeways and the Valley Metro Light Rail,”
Pastor retired from Congress in 2015 but remained an active spearheaded the Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service at Arizona State University – before he passed away last Nov. 27 at age 75.
The $1.7-billion freeway – the single most expensive highway project in Arizona history – could formally open Dec. 20, according to several sources, although nothing official has been announced.
When it does, the state likely will host the kind of party that often accompanies the opening of a big new segment of the Loop system, with people encouraged to walk or ride bikes along the thoroughfare.
Even if it does open for traffic this year, ADOT expects some work will continue into next year – notably completion of the 32nd Street interchange as well as other finishing touches.
The board that named the freeway after Pastor was created by the Legislature in 1982 and charged with “determining the most appropriate names for place names in Arizona,” according to its website.
“Arizona’s geographic names reflect its colorful history, culture and diversity,” it says. “These names show reverence and awe, realism and grit, whimsy and humor. Geographic names are part of the state’s historical record.”
Though it generally selects names that reflect distinctive geographic features, it occasionally names sites after people as it did with naming State Route 51 after Lori Piestewa, the first Native American member of the U.S. military to die in combat.