As crews race to toward a possible opening on Dec, 20, the South Mountain Freeway continues to produce new problems for Ahwatukee homeowners.
Even as design-builder Connect202Partners and the Arizona Department of Transportation bowed to pressure from two homeowners associations and the entire Legislative District 18 delegation and agreed to address two problems, residents in one of Ahwatukee’s newest communities are fuming the highway agencies’ westernmost termination point for the sound wall on the Pecos segment.
Instead of extending the wall around a bend as the freeway extends through South Mountain, it now ends at a point several hundred yards east of it.
Promontory homeowners fear the gap will not only expose them to the roar of the 140,000 vehicles – half of them trucks – that are projected to use the freeway daily but that the headlights of eastbound traffic will become a constant menace at night.
Another gap east of that point appears to expose some Calabrea homeowners to the same noise and headlight problems.
The wall’s end point was one of three issues raised at a meeting Aug. 15 involving Connect202, ADOT, Reps. Jennifer Jermaine and Mitzi Epstein, Sen. Sean Bowie, Club West Association President Mike Hinz, county Supervisor and State Transportation Board Chairman Jack Sellers, a Foothills HOA representative, City Councilman Sal DiCiccio’s Chief of Staff Sam Stone and Club West resident Elspeth Gadzik.
“The meeting went well – very cordial and productive,” Bowie said.
“ADOT and Connect 202 agreed to better communication with the neighborhoods, as the neighborhoods felt communication was good initially but had tapered off in recent months,” he added, saying he stressed “this was a priority for us and we will be monitoring future efforts to ensure communities are listened to.”
Hinz also was satisfied with the meeting’s outcome after ADOT agreed to remove the fence between Central Avenue and 10th Street.
The agencies also agreed to speed up installation of the light shields, particularly near the 32nd Street and 17th Avenue interchanges with a goal of getting them finished by Nov. 15, Bowie said.
“There will be some highway glow, but the shields should help,” Hinz said.
He also said ADOT agreed to relocate of the remaining fencing 150 feet father back and closer to the freeway, adding that it will be painted to blend in with its surroundings.
It is unclear what will happen with that part of the fencing in the Foothills community. Hinz said the issues involving that portion are different from those in Club West.
Gadzik was delighted with the decision, although she and Bowie noted that ADOT told her it will sell the land between the freeway and Liberty Lane around 10th Street and that while it is currently zoned for single-family homes, a developer could seek its rezoning for apartments.
But while the lights and fence issues were resolved, the wall remains a point of contention between the highway agencies and Promontory residents.
Bowie said the agencies “maintained that they have done sound studies and that further sections of the wall are not needed.”
“I’ve asked them to look at both the area around Calabrea and up in the new Promontory neighborhood, as constituents in both areas want the wall extended,” he said.
Stephen Whalley said that when he bought his Promontory house in December 2017, he knew the development would be located less than a half mile from the freeway and he’s fine with that.
He felt it was worth the community’s relative isolation on an elevated area amid mountains to the west and north and a commanding view of desert and Ahwatukee to the east and south.
But Whalley also said he believed ADOT and Taylor Morrison salesman Kevin McLeod’s assurances that the sound wall would extend the full length of that freeway segment paralleling Promontory.
“ADOT told us the same thing they told the homeowners,” McLoed said, declining further comment and referring questions to Taylor Morrison’s corporate headquarters.
Whalley and his angry neighbors said they were told the wall was terminated to save money.
He said Connect202 and ADOT assured homeowners they would take sound readings once the freeway is opened to see if the wall should be extended farther.
But Whalley and the other homeowners draw no comfort from those assurances because, they say, ADOT and Connect202 didn’t live up to other assurances during the freeway’s initial construction stages.
Earlier this year, he said, crews continued almost round-the-clock rock-crushing well beyond the time they assured it would be completed. He said Connect202 also largely failed to ensure that crews at night kept their floodlights on the freeway pointed away from their homes.
Promontory homeowner Monica Barnett, whose backyard overlooks the point where the wall ends, was so incensed that she emailed ADOT Director John Halikowski.
She complained that not only has the wall fallen short of where they were told it would end, but that she learned ADOT plans to install an overhead sign in full view of the residents.
“We never saw this in the plans nor was it brought up in the meeting when asked what else we should expect,” she wrote. “Is this part of another innovative idea? Seems like another thoughtless approach in this design-and-build project.”
“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 things,” Barnett added, telling Halikowski:
“I know you get these, not sure you read them as there has been zero response from you. I invite you to come to my house so you can see first-hand the issues that are blatantly being ignored and pushed to the side.”
Halikowski never replied, Barnett said.
In another email, Barnett implored ADOT to “follow their own guidelines and rules, to make sure neighborhoods and homes like mine get the protection they are allowed and deserve from an eight-lane highway in their line of sight and that our tax dollars and federal money are being used appropriately before the highway is open.”
Despite numerous emails, ADOT and Connect202 haven’t budged.
At one point, Connect202 emailed some residents with an offer to purchase blackout curtains for residents to shield them from headlights from the freeway’s eastbound traffic.
“Do you have curtain rods?” wrote Connect202 community liaison Gaby Kemp. “If so, what size: height and width? How many windows to your bedroom? Do you have a preference in color? Please let us know as we would like to be as helpful as possible.”
In another email, Connect202 told residents:
“The South Mountain Freeway team is confident that the current wall design will meet the required noise mitigation to protect nearby residents.”
The agency also said, “ADOT conducted further analysis and an in-depth review of the revised wall design and concluded that any changes in noise levels from the previous design are imperceptible and all federal noise requirements will continue to be met or exceeded with this modification.”
Ironically, ADOT ’s website still carries a three-year-old video-rendering of the freeway that shows the sound wall extending beyond Promontory.
Likewise, the agency’s final environmental impact study submitted to federal officials several years ago shows the same thing.
And during community workshops ADOT held in Ahwatukee the past three years, maps showed the sound wall going farther west than it does now.
But the environmental impact study also advised:
“Numerous ‘state-of-the-practice’ assumptions were made to complete the noise analysis. As the design of the proposed action further develops, additional noise analyses would be conducted. The results of this analysis and the mitigation recommendations should not be considered final and would need to be verified and refined as the design would progress.”
Conceding the environmental impact study shows that the wall going beyond Promontory, Connect202 told residents, “The wall configuration was further refined during the final design process.”
Residents pointed to ADOT’s own noise-abatement guidelines, which state it “will make a good faith effort to determine the preferences of the property owners” through a survey.
Connect202 told Promontory residents:
“Because the modified wall design meets ADOT’s required noise abatement threshold, no additional public input was required on the wall modification. The wall still effectively meets the noise abatement measures identified in the final” environmental impact study.
It also said, “ADOT has committed to conducting noise readings following opening of the South Mountain Freeway at residents’ request to verify that the noise wall meets ADOT’s noise abatement policy. The timing of those readings will be determined in consultation with ADOT’s noise specialist.”
Whalley, Barnett and other residents are frustrated by the response.
“We’re not asking them to divert the freeway,” Whalley said, pointing to the way the end-point of the wall takes a 45-degree turn toward the community and ends in the middle of the desert.
“We’re saying build the wall,” he continued. “They probably spent more do this little piddly little thing than it would have cost them to go all the way that they said it would.”