Major issues with the proposed South Mountain Freeway:
PARC has 3 major issues with the proposed South Mountain Freeway (SMF):
Blasting through 3 ridges of South Mountain is an outrageous, irresponsible action that would permanently disfigure South Mountain, destroying the integrity of the park, the mountain, and its ecosystem. This destruction must be stopped!
This issue must NOT be buried among local highway issues that may be able to benefit citizens of the valley. The CANAMEX truck by-pass will provide virtually NO BENEFITS for residents, but the traffic and the air pollution introduced into the Valley of the Sun will choke us!
One good idea is to build a new route for I-10 so all but local traffic would bypass the Valley of the Sun! ADOT has enough money to do this, but the money needs to be used more effectively.
The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) and the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) would have us believe that the Pecos alignment is the only alternative for the South Mountain Freeway (SMF). In our view, the Pecos alignment is not and has never been a viable alternative, but certainly viable alternatives exist. Viable alternatives existed when MAG first proposed the SMF 25 years ago, but they were all rejected out of hand. Viable alternatives still exist today, but MAG is locked into the Pecos alignment, an even worse idea now than it was 25 years ago! It should be MAG’s responsibility to find the best alternatives for transportation in the Valley of the Sun, but that has not happened. So we have questions – many questions.
It is a violation of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) to predetermine a solution for a freeway before all possible alternatives have been explored. So why has MAG dismissed any other possibilities over the 25 years since the Pecos alignment was proposed? Now that light rail is a very real and proven possibility for the valley, why has MAG never considered light rail for the South Mountain corridor instead of a freeway? Why has MAG never made a good faith proposal to the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) to possibly use their land for the SMF alignment? ADOT once had the invitation from the GRIC to study a possible alignment on their land, but ADOT did not take advantage of it. Now MAG has received an invitation from the GRIC to make a good faith proposal. Will MAG take advantage of this opportunity? Or might they purposely make a poor proposal that they know the GRIC will reject?
MAG has performed some hocus-pocus with their highway funding, and now they say they can do an 8-lane SMF for $1.9 Billion. Is this a realistic number? Consider that there are many risks involved with building the SMF along the Pecos alignment, and none of these risks has been factored into the $1.9 Billion. What if the wells in the path of the freeway that supply water to lakes and golf courses cannot be relocated? What if air flow patterns would result in increased air pollution concentration in the basin formed by South Mountain around Ahwatukee? What if the freeway were to be built below ground level, as freeways are in all other highly populated valley locations? What if considerations for maintaining wildlife patterns are more complicated than ADOT engineers anticipate? What if water runoff from South Mountain turns out to be a major issue to be resolved? What if erosion from cutting through South Mountain turns out to be a major issue from the very beginning (ADOT already knows it will be a continuing problem that will require many resources as time goes on)? What if the GRIC goes to court and either blocks the building of the freeway or at least gets compensation for losing their sacred lands in South Mountain that include burial sites, archeological sites, and shrines? What if the Phoenix Mountains Preserve Council goes to court to prevent the use of Mountain Preserve land for a freeway? How can the cost of desecrating a portion of the world’s largest wilderness municipal park (South Mountain Park) even be measured? Why have MAG and ADOT refused to address these issues until after the SMF has been approved for building? Could it be that, among other things, they are afraid the result would require them to raise their estimated cost for the freeway?
ADOT’s latest excuse for not talking with the GRIC about possibly putting the freeway across their land is that it might cost more than the Pecos alignment. First, is this a legitimate question when just considering possibilities? Second, why don’t we also compare the risks of building the freeway on GRIC land as opposed to the risks of:
- introducing accentuated air and noise pollution into a populated basin that is walled in by South Mountain,
- moving wells,
- disturbing wildlife patterns,
- disturbing water runoff patterns,
- introducing erosion problems that are a certainty because of blasting through South Mountain,
- desecrating land that is sacred to many people,
- setting a precedent of destroying a part of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve (which obviously was intended to be preserved), and
- destroying a portion of the world’s largest wilderness municipal park in South Mountain Park?
The risk of building the SMF on GRIC land would be resolved before any decision is made – the risk of whether Gila River people would see a benefit in having the freeway on their land. The risk of building the SMF along the Pecos alignment comes from the “Humpty Dumpty effect” after a decision is made and after destruction has occurred that cannot be reversed! Is this good regional transportation planning? Or is this a coward’s way out? Is the bully who loves to use the hammer of eminent domain unable to cope with the prospect of having to be respectful to people to provide a scenario that would benefit all concerned?
How about the risk of getting approval to build the SMF along the Pecos alignment? MAG never talks about this, but with all the hanky panky that has occurred over the 25 years since the SMF has been proposed, there is good reason to believe that MAG would lose a court challenge to the Pecos alignment. That loss would occur after many years in court, including appeals, with nothing happening on the SMF for all that time. What about the owners of the properties along this alignment who would be in limbo for all that time? Does MAG care? Then if MAG loses in court after all that, the property owners would finally get the answer that they should have today – that the SMF would not be built on the Pecos alignment. And then what? MAG would have to start over. Does it take all that time and wasted money on engineers and attorneys and court costs to get MAG to see what reasonable people already can see – there are viable alternatives to the Pecos alignment?!
MAG has placed the SMF and the Loop 303 as the highest priorities in the valley. Why is the SMF a higher priority than:
- finishing the real truck by-pass along State Route 85 that connects the I-10 near Buckeye to the I-8 near Gila Bend? SR-85 is not a freeway. If it were made into a freeway (a much less expensive alternative than the SMF), it could be renumbered as I-10 (what is currently I-10 going through downtown would be renumbered also), and it would provide a natural way for all “through” traffic to by-pass the city. Does MAG really want to reduce air pollution? By-passing the city with I-10 would provide a route for all the truck traffic that currently uses SR-85, along with a lot of other traffic that currently goes through the city. Wouldn’t keeping all this traffic out of the valley be a major step toward reducing air pollution in the valley? Wouldn’t creating a SMF actually add all the traffic that currently uses SR-85 to the traffic that currently goes through the valley? It may divert some of the traffic away from downtown, but it wouldn’t take it out of the valley. In fact, wouldn’t it just make the pollution in the West valley worse because of the extra truck traffic coming through to get to the new “short cut”?
- fixing the Broadway curve? The Broadway curve is a major traffic congestion area both because of the volume of traffic on I-10 and because the traffic flow at the Broadway curve currently creates a bottleneck. MAG once tried to claim that the SMF would provide significant improvement to the volume of traffic at the Broadway curve, but they have since had to back down from that exaggerated claim. MAG also seems to have thrown their hands up in the air to indicate that they can’t do anything about the traffic bottleneck at the Broadway curve. ADOT seems to think that their engineers can’t find a way to improve traffic flow there. Are ADOT engineers really that inept? An analysis of the traffic flow at the Broadway curve shows that the bottleneck is created by a large portion of traffic criss-crossing lanes in front of each other. One conceptual solution to the bottleneck is the following:
Westbound I-10 traffic could have an off ramp for the Broadway and airport exits (where traffic crosses lanes to the right to exit) before traffic enters from SR-60, crossing lanes to the left. Separating the exiting traffic from the entering traffic would prevent a large portion of traffic from criss-crossing lanes in front of each other.
Similarly, eastbound I-10 traffic could have an off ramp for the SR-60 exit before the entrance ramps from Broadway and the airport bring traffic onto I-10. Again, separating the exiting traffic from the entering traffic would prevent a large portion of traffic from criss-crossing lanes in front of each other.
Respectable civil engineers can certainly design elevated ramps as necessary to accomplish such traffic patterns that would eliminate so much criss-crossing traffic. The expense can easily be justified by the significant traffic flow improvement they would provide.
Moving up the priorities of the truck by-pass and the Broadway curve, and lowering the priority of the SMF would accomplish needed improvements for current highways. It would also permit MAG to take the time to get it right with the SMF instead of hurrying into what they call an important solution for regional traffic. Why the hurry now after 25 years of inaction when viable alternatives could have been explored? Why the increased priority now when the current economy has created new types of traffic patterns that MAG has not even been able to characterize yet?
Is MAG really interested in regional traffic? They claim they need to provide a solution for getting people in the West valley (Laveen, Avondale, etc.) to the East valley (Chandler, Gilbert, etc.) and vice versa. If this is really their concern, why have they not considered using light rail as a solution? It would cost half as much and not introduce an unnecessary and polluting truck by-pass into the valley. It should also be possible to build light rail without having to blast through South Mountain as long as the GRIC is included in planning. Isn’t it likely that the GRIC would love to have a light rail line that could get people to the Wild Horse Pass area? Isn’t it also likely that they would be open to allowing it to go across a small piece of their land if that would avoid having to blast through South Mountain?
Providing a “good” solution for regional traffic in the South Mountain corridor could be a win for everyone. Light rail along Pecos Road (and not through South Mountain) could provide a mechanism for a resident of Gilbert to get to work in Avondale, for example. It could also provide a way for a resident of Laveen to shop in Chandler. Meanwhile, the light rail corridor could also contain an extended bike path along with new Park and Ride lots, improving – rather than destroying – the way of life in Ahwatukee.
MAG will tell you that light rail comes out of a different budget than highways. So what? The projects with the highest priority get done first. Regional transportation in the South Mountain corridor will get its fair share of the funding available, according to the priority of the project.
What about the needs of the industrial sector around 51st Avenue? There are still issues with truck traffic across GRIC land that need to be resolved. There is also the 801 freeway that is on MAG’s map. Couldn’t the 801 take care of truck traffic from the industrial area to the current truck by-pass route (remember, it could become I-10 with proper planning)? Would the best long-term solution be a rail spur to the industrial area to further reduce the truck traffic within the valley? Or could MAG and ADOT work something out with the GRIC that would provide a good solution for all concerned?
Or does MAG really have a different, hidden agenda? Are they really trying to push through the SMF so their friends in the trucking industry can get a short cut through the city? Does MAG really care about air pollution or do they play games with numbers to make it look like they are trying to improve the air? What happens when the SMF becomes the default for the CANAMEX highway and Mexican trucks (not required to live up to our air pollution standards) jam the SMF?
So many questions with so few answers. Just one more question. Will you join PARC in an effort to hold MAG and ADOT to serving the people – not political agendas – by providing sound, responsible transportation solutions for the Valley of the Sun? Together we can make a difference.
Please support PARC now! Time is critical!