Waste of Tax Dollars

While recognizing the need to continuously improve and expand the transportation system in the Valley of the Sun, PARC strenuously objects to the South Mountain Freeway along the Pecos alignment because the SMF would

  1. Bear a disproportionate cost of the limited transportation tax funding available
  2. Result in huge negative impacts to one of the valley’s treasured resources – South Mountain – and its adjoining communities
  3. Increase rather than decrease the air pollution in the Valley of the Sun, requiring additional taxpayer funding for cleanup
  4. Generate only marginal commuting benefits for the citizens of the greater metropolitan area

There are many discrepancies between the stated traffic congestion benefits of this project for areas such as the Broadway Curve and the West Valley I-10 and the actual available data.

The excessive cost of this project was already demonstrated by a “citizen” initiative needed to help pay for it.  The initiative was called the TIME Act, and it did not even make it to ballot.  The TIME Act would have increased the state sales tax by 1 cent per dollar.  The TIME Act was actually a business initiative, but ADOT was fully behind it and vigorously promoted it even though it would have brought Arizona into the top five states for sales tax.  This was before the recession hit!  One has to wonder how ADOT is handling its budget and whether a bottom-up ADOT budget review might well serve the citizens of Arizona.

ADOT must do some work to justify the South Mountain Freeway. So far, its so-called justifications do not hold up to any reasonable test.

ADOT and MAG are using simplistic models that make some assumptions that do not apply to a South Mountain Freeway. First, they assume that the cost will be the same per mile as it would be to build any other freeway. It only takes common sense to realize that the cost will be much higher per mile when you have to blast through a mountain, rework an entire ecosystem, somehow “mitigate” sacred lands, and purchase a lot more property than is normally required for a right-of-way.

MAG’s models assume an even distribution of population throughout the region. This assumption is completely invalid for the South Mountain Corridor. With South Mountain Park and the Gila River Indian Community, some areas in the South Mountain Corridor have zero population! Others are densely populated. The predicted traffic flow for this corridor has absolutely no basis in fact.

The models also assume that the mix of traffic over the South Mountain Freeway would be the same as for every other freeway. Again, since this freeway would become a CANAMEX truck by-pass, those models are not close to reality. A large part of the justification for the freeway is that it will improve air quality in the region by preventing traffic tie-ups. This freeway will not solve any traffic tie-ups. The infamous Broadway Curve, which needs so badly to be “fixed,” will not get any significant help from the South Mountain Freeway. Instead, the freeway will bring significantly more truck traffic into the region. The additional truck traffic will include thousands of pollution-belching trucks from Mexico that are not required to pass air pollution standards. Rather than improving the air quality of the region, the South Mountain Freeway will degrade air quality significantly. This is at a time when the emphasis is on cleaning up the environment and improving air quality. It is also at a time when the Valley of the Sun is in danger of losing Federal highway funding if the air quality does not show significant improvement!

Other major ADOT projects aimed at relieving traffic congestion are running in the neighborhood of $185 Million (Ministack) to $1.25 Billion (Durango Curve). These projects will provide considerable traffic congestion relief. Meanwhile, ADOT wants to build the South Mountain Freeway, currently at an estimated cost of $1.9 Billion, to provide virtually no additional relief of traffic congestion! Where is their common sense?

2009 estimates from ADOT indicate that the South Mountain Freeway will cost about $1.9 Billion to build (for 8 lanes). This is already more than twice the original prediction for 10 lanes, but it is also low. Even using the unrealistic, simplistic models that ADOT has been using, estimates that would consider the need for building this freeway below ground rather than above ground and take all the ramifications of the current rise in fuel costs into consideration would have to be at least $2.5 Billion. Now, this figure could be  as much as doubled again to be close to the right “ball park.” Experience has shown over and over again that anytime a government agency makes a cost prediction for a complex project when they don’t even know the full extent of the requirements for that project, the project always costs far more than predicted, up to twice as much, even when cost estimates have already been increased to take this effect into consideration!  The problem is that even the best cost models cannot account for unknown issues – but new issues will arise.  ADOT admits they have not investigated the environmental issues in depth. So a conservative cost estimate is more like $2-$4 Billion. Is ADOT considering using common sense on more responsible, cost-effective solutions now?  Of course not!

So a highway that was originally expected to cost less than $1 Billion for 10 lanes is now up to $2-$4 Billion for 8 lanes and counting. And this figure does not even take into consideration any Federal highway dollars that will be lost because of the increase in air pollution (over $1 Billion), or the additional cost of trying to clean up the air in the region after it has been made so much worse by the new South Mountain Freeway CANAMEX truck by-pass, or the cost of trying to “fix” environmental problems that are discovered after the freeway is built, or the cost of a HazMat spill in the environmentally sensitive South Mountain, etc.

Now consider that a freeway could be built somewhere in the neighborhood of State Route 85 for much less than $2-$4 Billion. It could not only become a true truck by-pass, but it could also be renumbered I-10. This would divert all “through” traffic around the Valley of the Sun, reducing air pollutants as well as improving traffic flow.

The South Mountain Freeway along the Pecos alignment is a waste of our tax dollars! With the exorbitant current cost of this freeway, the projected history-based cost and the probable final design as-built cost, including the many speculators seeking to profit from it, the South Mountain Freeway money can be much better spent elsewhere!