Phoenix freeway threatens people and wildlife

By Maria Johnson
Staff Writer

PHOENIX — A proposed eight-lane freeway threatens to permanently scar the fourth largest city park in the world, South Mountain Park and Preserve. If approved, the addition could destroy 120 homes, harm Sonoran Desert flora and fauna and cost Arizona taxpayers $1.9 billion.

In the southwest corner of Phoenix, South Mountain breaks the trend of flat land and the busy city. The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) began plans for a freeway in this area near Ahwatukee Foothills in 1983. Since then, ADOT has had to revise its original plan many times, due to budget restrictions and disapproval from the local community.

Tracy Garretson, an Ahwatukee Foothills resident since 2004 said, “We were never told that [the 202] was going to turn into an eight or ten-lane highway. Our local realtor also never divulged this information to us. I never dreamed I needed to research if a future highway might be built in our neighborhood.”

In 2001, ADOT bought land within the proposed South Mountain Freeway route as part of a plan to develop a regional freeway system. According to ADOT, the purpose for this section of freeway is, “To improve mobility in the region by increasing capacity and providing alternatives to allow traffic, including truck traffic, to bypass already congested routes.”

Following this purchase, they began work on an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to determine what the environmental, social and economic effects building the freeway would cause. An EIS is required by law for all major federal actions that may have a considerable impact on the environment.

Several years later, the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC), located just south of the proposed freeway, appointed South Mountain as a sacred place and traditional cultural property. Constructing the freeway on GRIC land developed as an option by 2010, despite previous objection from the community.

Currently, the GRIC is in the process of voting on the freeway. With approval, the route would run south from 51st Avenue in Phoenix, past Pecos Road and onto Gila River land, connecting with Loop 202 just beyond 48th Street and Pecos Road. With disapproval, the alternate Pecos route would displace more than 100 families, close a church and destroy three mountain ridges.

Aside from the destruction of their homes, community members have expressed numerous other concerns. The fragile ecosystems of the Gila River and South Mountain crime and pollution have been other fears associated with the construction of the freeway.

Garretson commented, “A highway would bring more crime to our area; I feel very safe out here right now. It would also bring harm to all the wildlife. This is a big concern to us with noise, pollution and quality of life. We love the peace and quiet out here at the end of Ahwatukee.”

Decisions are set to be finalized mid-2011, after the release of the EIS, public hearings and community feedback.

This article appeared in the April 2011 print edition of The Raven Review.

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