Several volunteers from Protecting Arizona’s Resources and Children took the opportunity to voice their concerns about the South Mountain Freeway during the Phoenix City Council meeting Wednesday, Oct. 1.
Volunteers spoke about the traffic, health and chemical emergency issues they say have not been properly addressed in the Arizona Department of Transportation’s Final Environmental Impact Study (FEIS) of the South Mountain Freeway.
The FEIS was recently released. The public has until Nov. 25 to review the report and submit comments to ADOT before the study is used to obtain a final record of decision from the federal government.
“The concept of this freeway has been questionable from the beginning,” said Pat Lawlis, president of PARC. She said it’s obvious, though ADOT says otherwise, that the freeway will be used as a truck bypass.
PARC hired several national experts to review the draft EIS last year. Those experts pointed out several major problems with the project. Lawlis said they’ve been brought back to review the FEIS and early indications are that the problems have not been addressed.
PARC and several other local groups, like the Phoenix Mountain Preservation Council, asked the City Council to consider investigating the problems with the freeway on their own and passing a resolution to oppose it.
“You have a weighted vote on MAG (Maricopa Association of Governments),” said Steve Brittle. “You need them to stop this freeway.”
It’s unlikely the council will pass any resolution on the freeway. Several members of the council are involved in the issue on both sides, but ultimately it’s not up to the city whether the freeway will be built.
“After decades of waiting, this may be the most scrutinized transportation project in Arizona’s recent history,” said City Councilwoman Kate Gallego in a statement. “I believe that at the conclusion of the process, we will find what Laveen and South Mountain residents have known for years: this freeway is desperately needed and should be built as soon as possible.”
Gallego said she looks forward to working with state and community leaders to make sure this process is expedited.
City Councilman Michael Nowakowski shared Gallego’s viewpoint.
“The release of this EIS brings us a huge step closer to getting this vital freeway built, and I’m confident we’ll have an official green light on construction early next year,” he said in a statement. “The South Mountain Freeway is going to be one of the single biggest boosts to economic development and growth in Phoenix in decades, especially in the Laveen and South Mountain areas. The city’s long-range economic health and growth require the highway be completed as soon as possible.”
Councilman Sal DiCiccio has been involved with the issue for decades. Some have said he has a conflict of interest because he owns land on the Gila River Indian Community. DiCiccio has said his land will not be affected whether or not the freeway is built. He has consistently been outspoken opposing the freeway going down Pecos Road.
DiCiccio sent a letter to the mayor and city manager on Thursday asking for a City Council vote on the freeway.
“We heard considerable testimony at the council meeting yesterday afternoon regarding the negative impacts of this freeway on the Pecos Road alignment, the devastation to one of our prized iconic mountains, South Mountain Park, along with the destruction of several hundred homes in our city,” the letter said. “I believe that it is proper for this city to vote on a project like this. My request is that we schedule this vote at the next regularly scheduled formal or policy meeting in October.”
Once the comment period for the FEIS ends, ADOT will take the report to the federal government to get the final record of decision on the project, or the OK to move forward with construction. Once that is issued, PARC plans to take the state to court. For more information on PARC, visit protectazchildren.org.
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