CURRENT FREEWAY STATUS

For more than 25 years, the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) has been pushing the notion of the South Mountain Freeway Loop 202 on communities within and surrounding Phoenix, Arizona. Loop 202 began in 1983 as an idea of the Maricopa Association of Governments’ (MAG) Regional Freeway System’s planning committee. The committee proposed a 10-lane freeway to connect eastern and western segments of I-10 in the metro Phoenix area. Due to a lack of funding, the freeway has had a mean streak of push-backs. Even amongst the flooding of funds from both the United States Department of Highway Funding and ADOT, the 202 freeway project has been consistently underfunded. So much so that in 2009, MAG scaled back their original plans to an eight-lane freeway

Currently, construction of this freeway is at a standstill. ADOT, in conjunction with the Gila River Department of Transportation, has most recently been putting pressure on Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) residents to accept the freeway. At a December 2010 meeting at Gila River, the freeway proposal was presented as if it were past the point of a “no build” option. Then, at a later meeting, ADOT and GRIC spokespersons admitted that not building the freeway was still an option.

It is important to note that not even the planning of this freeway has ever stayed on schedule. However, if all goes according to ADOT’s present schedule, GRIC will take a vote on the 202 freeway in January 2011. Pre-vote, GRIC and the Gila River council must first decide how to make the vote: by council vote, referendum or initiative. It is still a bit vague as to why the proposed freeway is only being presented to the Community as “GRIC must decide on/endorse a preferred alignment”.

One of the largest missing links in ADOT’s current push for the freeway is that their Environmental Impact Statement Report (EISR) process is unfinished, and is estimated by members of GRIC’s Transportation Technical Team to be only about 15% complete. Why would ADOT pressure GRIC to make such a decision on the freeway without knowing the environmental impacts first?  What is the purpose of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process?
From the ADOT Freeway Loop 202 online library:

“An Environmental Impact Statement presents information as to how a proposed project and its alternatives may affect the natural and built/social environment. Elements of the natural environment that are often studied include air quality, wildlife and wildlife habitat, water resources, and wilderness. Elements of the social/built environment that are often studied include farmlands, history and archeology, noise, parks and recreation, communities, and aesthetics. “

Is the Gila River Indian Community not important enough to be given ample time to make their decision with a fully complete EIS process? ADOT notes that members of the Gila River Indian Community are to be included within their study.

From the ADOT Freeway Loop 202 online library:

“The project team will also continue to meet with village planning committees, service organizations, homeowners associations, other neighborhood groups throughout the study area, and the Gila River Indian Community.”

GRIC originally opposed the freeway through an official resolution in 2000.  Then in 2005, the Community reaffirmed their stance by re-adopting their resolution against construction of the 202 freeway. ADOT has repeatedly acknowledged that GRIC has sole authority when it comes to even studying a proposed freeway going through the Gila River Indian Community, let alone approving any freeway on their land. Asking members of the Gila River Indian Community decide on the freeway without the facts on how they will be affected is unfair.

From the ADOT Freeway Loop 202 online library:

“GRIC has sole authority to decide if and where a freeway might be studied or built on its land. Therefore, if an eastern preference must be identified without GRIC alternatives, options would include either the Pecos Road alignment or not building the South Mountain Freeway.”

The expected release date for the EIS was fall 2010. It is now projected to be released sometime in 2011. Once the EIS is released, there will be at least 90 days for the public to review the results of the study. During that comment period, only one public hearing will be held on the contents of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. From the results of the draft EIS, a “final” EIS will be released and there will be an additional 60 days to review that.

On Endangered and Threatened Species

Another concern surrounding the construction of the freeway is the threatened and endangered species that exist within the natural ecosystems of Gila River and South Mountain. Numerous studies have proven that the two main reasons for species decline are habitat loss and negative interaction

The Gila River is home to the spikedace and loach minnow, which are both federally threatened species. Two federally endangered species, the Gila topminnow and the desert pupfish, also have their habitats in the Gila River. The fact that the habitat of these species of fish could be under attack should be taken seriously. According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, of 36 fish species historically native to Arizona, 21 are listed as threatened or endangered, and one species has already gone extinct.
The riverine areas are also home to mountain lions and the threatened Mexican Spotted Owl.

South Mountain itself is home to many special animals that thrive on its unique ecosystem. The entire species of the common chuckwalla has been determined “threatened” and its existence is considered sensitive. There are only two other known areas that the chuckwallas live.

The construction of this freeway would also unavoidably disrupt Indigenous sacred places. Many of the mountains in the South Mountain range are sacred ancestral homelands to the O’odham people, who are indigenous to that area. Many sacred and medicinal plants rely on these ecologically threatened areas for their existence.

This information has been researched to help others learn more about MAG’s proposed South Mountain Freeway Loop 202 project. There are an abundance of more reasons why one could oppose this freeway. We recognize that the access to knowledge on this freeway is hard to access. It is also obvious that the reasons to oppose the freeway are not going to be handed to us, so hopefully the information here makes it easier to inform you on some details of the proposed freeway.

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