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Opponents Of South Mountain Freeway Still Optimistic Court Can Stop Project

Construction on the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway continues, but opponents are hopeful a pending court case could still stop the project.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals late last month heard arguments in that case, and critics are hoping for a ruling by the end of the year.

Pat Lawlis is one of them. She’s President of the group Protect Arizona’s Resources and Children, PARC.

Lawlis said since work on the freeway has started, the impacts have been worse than she’d thought. She said the best case scenario for her would be for the court to order the state transportation department to put the areas affected back the way they were as best it can.

"I think it would have to be probably many months of work done to leave things in a reasonable state, rather than to leave them as they are now," Lawlis said.

Lawlis doesn’t believe the freeway is needed, but that’s not the opinion of ADOT. Dustin Krugel is with the agency.

"We’ve worked closely with area stakeholders to plan a South Mountain Freeway project that not only meets the strictest environmental standards, but also addresses one of the most critical transportation needs in the Valley," Krugel said.

Krugel said the firm building the freeway is taking every step it can to minimize the construction’s impact on the area, and the people living there, but he acknowledges the work is not easy to live with.

"There are a lot of impacts, but we are committed to mitigating those impacts and try to make it a little bit easier on the public," he said. "But we are committed to building this freeway as soon as possible, so we can get done with those impacts and then motorists can start to reap the benefits of this new freeway."

But some critics are still hopeful the freeway will not ultimately be built and that South Mountain will not be disturbed.

Lawlis said that would have to come from the court. She believes this pending ruling will be the end of the road.

But Andrew Pedro disagrees. He’s been fighting against the freeway for the past several years and is a member of the Gila River Indian Community.

Pedro said even if the court rules against freeway opponents, he’ll keep fighting.

"I guess from an outsider’s point of view, there’s an end to this," he said. "You know, the freeway’s the end, that was the issue here. And since it’s there, then OK, it’s over. But for us, that’s not the case – these things never end, because these are a part of our lives."

Pedro said opponents are going to do whatever they feel they need to do. He said when someone’s attacked, the first thought is to help and defend them in any way you can. In this case, Pedro’s not entirely sure what form that might take.

"It can mean plenty of things – it can mean occupation, it can mean direct action, it could mean more protests," Pedro said.

If the court rules in ADOT’s favor, as previous courts have, the agency expects to have the 22 mile freeway finished in late 2019.

News The Show
Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.