The Arizona Department of Transportation and South Mountain Freeway developer Connect202Partners are quickly learning that good fences don’t make good neighbors in Ahwatukee.
As opposition grew over the installation of chain link fences along Liberty Lane, homeowners close to another freeway segment are complaining about the agencies’ seeming refusal to install shields on high-intensity lights already in use at exit ramps.
State Sen. Sean Bowie said he and the rest of the Legislative District 18 delegation – along with city Councilman Sal DiCiccio’s office and Club West Community Association President Mike Hinz – will meet with ADOT and Connect 202 officials on Oct. 15, to discuss the fencing.
And homeowners whose backyards and bedrooms have been flooded by the freeway’s high-intensity lights may get some relief – but probably not for a few months.
The fencing runs along segments of Liberty Lane next to the freeway.
ADOT said such fencing is standard along freeways in Arizona, where there are no buildings or other impediments, to deter vandals from defacing freeway walls.
But Hinz and Club West residents living near the fenced areas contend similar sections of freeways in Scottsdale and Chandler don’t have fences.
Bowie said the meeting will be with the director of the freeway project and “other senior leadership at ADOT and will include both the fencing and lights issue.”
That was good news to Hinz, who criticized the responses he and homeowners get from front-line Connect202 community liaisons who deal with freeway-related issues raised by the public.
“We’re going to bump it up a couple of levels because they are not empowered to solve any problem,” Hinz said. “They’re only empowered to obfuscate and they don’t tell the truth.”
At the very least, Hinz wonders why the fence was installed right along the Liberty Lane curb, a good 20 feet away from the freeway.
But he also questions assertions the fence is standard, noting portions of the Loop 202 Santan Freeway and the Loop 101 Price Freeway have no fences.
The fence is a new issue to emerge as the rapidly developing freeway continues impacting Ahwatukee in new ways.
Since June, at least one neighborhood near the 17th Avenue exit continues to run into bureaucratic roadblocks, as a result to reduce glare from lights already installed and in use on the interchange.
Paul and Christine Scott, along with next-door neighbor Cody Northern and others on the block, said their backyards at night look like stadiums hosting evening games and have forced them to get blackout curtains for their bedrooms.
Both the yards and second-floor bedrooms face an elevated segment of the freeway where the LED lights were erected atop towering poles.
“Why they put the lights at the highest points of the freeway when they could have put them just a bit farther west where the freeway dips makes no sense,” said Paul Scott.
Added Christine: “What’s amazing is that ADOT made a big show three years ago about being like ‘we’re gonna try and accommodate the neighbors.’ They could be a little more accommodating but they’re not.”
In July, Scott wrote Connect202 telling the agency “the amount of light pollution coming from these fixtures is stunning” and that the responses he has received from them comprise “the same boilerplate reply that says nothing.
“We all realize that freeway lighting is a necessity and that our close proximity means we will obviously be somewhat impacted. This is well beyond that though,” he continued. “Putting supplemental shields on these lights is definitely not something that is an extreme engineering feat.”
In a July 22 response to one of several emails the Scotts sent, a Connect202 staffer explained ADOT, since 2016, is converting all freeway lighting throughout Maricopa County to LED lights.
“Not only will this reduce ADOT’s energy consumption and costs across the county,” she wrote, “but the LED roadway lighting may result in better driver reaction times and improved visibility, having a positive impact on safety.”
Scott’s plea for shields was never addressed.
The City of Phoenix has been doing the same thing and has completed the conversion from high-pressure sodium lighting to LED lights.
But when neighbors complain about the glare to the city, the Street Transportation Department installs shields.
Connect 202 has told the homeowners lights are installed “according to approved design and construction plans.”
“The lights are pointed down to illuminate the freeway. They do not have supplemental shields,” wrote a different Connect202 representative. “Any mitigation of nuisance lighting outside the freeway right-of-way would be jointly determined by ADOT and C202P.”
The Scotts and Northern say it’s likely homeowners near other interchanges in Ahwatukee are grappling with the same lighting problem – and the same response from the highway agencies. Moreover, they expect the problem will only worsen since ADOT has yet to turn on the lights along the freeway path itself.
ADOT spokesman Tom Hermann said Monday, “We are aware of the concerns about lighting” and said Connect202 and ADOT “intend to minimize the amount of light that reaches beyond the freeway and are working to address this over the length of the project, not light-by-light.
“We will continue to communicate with the community to keep them informed of updates,” he said.
Northern said he told a Connect202 representative he has seen shields on other freeways’ lights.
“I grew up in Ahwatukee, between Warner and Elliot, really near to the I-10 and we never had a problem like we do here,” Northern said.
The Scotts purchased their home about four years ago and although, they knew they’d be near the freeway, the Realtor assured them it would be depressed.
A year later, ADOT said they were not building a depressed freeway afterall, because it requires more houses to be removed, would cost much more and would ultimately delay completion of the freeway.
The 22-mile, eight-lane freeway – the most expensive highway project in state history at $1.7 billion – is not expected to be completed until early next year. However, ADOT is still hoping motorists will be able to travel its length between the Chandler and West 59th Street interchanges on I-10 before the end of the year.
Sam Stone, chief of staff for DiCiccio, said he thinks some responses homeowners are getting as new freeway issues arise in Ahwatukee might indicate a desire by the agencies to just finish the freeway and move on.
“Honestly, this is the biggest issue we’re dealing with right now,” Stone said of freeway-related complaints. “It’s a markedly different attitude than what we were experiencing six months or a year ago.”
“The community has been very patient putting up with all the construction and all the disruption,” Stone said. “They should take care of these little things now because it’s going to make a big difference in the way people feel about this freeway for a long time.”
“I think they’re under a lot of pressure to get this thing done,” Stone said. “I think there’s a lot of resources in terms of the people working on this that the state would like to see working on other projects pretty soon.”