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By: Paul Atkinson on 02/01/2012
Members of the Gila River Indian Community will vote Tuesday on whether to allow a new freeway to be built on tribal land. The extension of Loop 202 around South Mountain was proposed more than 25 years ago. But funding shortfalls and differences over its route have delayed the long-awaited freeway. From Phoenix, KJZZ’s Paul Atkinson reports.
The Loop 202 completion could be built along South Mountain and Pecos Road. (Photo by Tracy Greer - KJZZ)
Miguel Ruiz, right, is interviewed by Paul Atkinson. Ruiz is a Laveen resident who works in Ahwatukee and has put many miles on his Hyundai Elantra. (Photo by Tracy Greer - KJZZ)
John Hansen owns Straight Shot Express delivery company in South Phoenix. Completion of Loop 202 would help his business. (Photo by Tracy Greer - KJZZ)
PAUL ATKINSON: Miguel Ruiz commutes from his West Valley home in Laveen to his job at a financial services company in Ahwatukee. On a good day, it takes about 25 to 30 minutes to get there. This morning, it took 45 minutes to drive about 15 miles.
MIGUEL RUIZ: Baseline Road gets really congested and with all this school traffic and all this other people heading to work, it took me a lot longer to get to work.
ATKINSON: Ruiz is one of thousands of commuters who live in the southwest or southeast valley who would benefit from the completion of the final leg of the Loop 202. The planed 22-mile freeway would create a loop around South Mountain. One end would travel south from Interstate 10 along 59th Avenue. The other west from I-10 along Pecos Road. Eric Anderson is the transportation director for the Maricopa Association of Governments, which is tasked with planning the route. He says the new loop would cut through a few ridges on the fringe of South Mountain and take out a church and up to 100 homes.
ERIC ANDERSON: Unfortunately there were some developments which were allowed in the corridor further to the west along Pecos Road there that may or may not have to be taken as part of the freeway construction depending on where the final design ends up.
ATKINSON: A decline in sales tax revenue that helps fund freeway construction forced planners to rethink the route and costs in 2009. That’s when the idea of putting a portion of the freeway on the Gila River Indian Community was suggested. Shifting the route would save mountain ridges and possibly spare the church and homes currently in its path. Anderson says the community will be voting to allow the freeway on tribal land.
ANDERSON: The ultimate result of that has been the community initiative that’s on the ballot -- and the community initiative Feb. 7 —on whether they want to look at alternatives on the community lands or not. Or would the community rather have a no build option — just have the freeway not built at all.
ATKINSON: John Hansen is anxiously awaiting the result. Hansen runs Straight Shot Express, a South Phoenix company that specializes in expedited freight delivery.
JOHN HANSEN: So when we do pick up on the West side of town taking it down to Nogales or to Texas, we want the quickest way out and less chance of an accident or an alternative if there is an accident, so. So, everything is time sensitive and get it there as quick as possible.
ATKINSON: The South Mountain Loop 202 will not only provide an alternate freeway route should I-10 be closed, but also would alleviate congestion on the busy interstate. MAG transportation director Eric Anderson says that doesn’t mean the new freeway will be full of big-rigs.
ANDERSON: A good 90 percent of traffic that’s projected to be on South Mountain is regional traffic. It’s not pass-through traffic, its not people trying to get around the urban area. This is actually -- much like the 101 serves regional needs — the same happens on Loop 202.
ATKINSON: Once a final route is chosen, Anderson expects construction to begin in three years with the freeway opening as early as 2020.