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Friday, March 24, 2017

Laveen Residents and Businesses Prepare for South Mountain Freeway

When the Arizona Department of Transportation announced in late June the “preliminary preferred build alternative” for the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway, it ended years of concern for residents opposed to the plan in communities such as Tolleson, Avondale and Goodyear. In Laveen, however, what was once speculation regarding the route has now turned to reality.

After considering connections with Interstate 10 at 55th Avenue, 71st Avenue and the Loop 101, ADOT identified 55th Avenue as the best route for the 10-lane freeway that will essentially divide Laveen down the middle. The decision was made following an environmental study that began in summer 2001.

“The 55th Avenue Alternative was the best option for balancing regional transportation needs with our responsibilities to be fiscally responsible and sensitive to the potential impacts to local communities,” said ADOT Director Victor Mendez. “The regional support for the 55th Avenue Alternative, its consistency with regional and local plans, and the fact it would result in fewer community and economic impacts than other South Mountain Freeway alternatives were factors in our decision.”

Thirty-one years ago, Laveen resident Michael Moss bought a home on five acres on 61st Lane, just north of Baseline Road. During the past three decades, he has raised a family and started a home-based contracting business, all the while knowing there was a possibility a freeway could pass directly through his property.

“I felt all along it wasn’t going anywhere else but here,” Moss added.

As a result, he knew the likelihood of selling the property was doubtful. In addition, he was hesitant to make structural improvements on the home for fear it would just be torn down a few years later, he said.

The long process of selecting a route for the freeway left Moss and his family searching for a resolution to the rumors.

“All along, all we wanted was just an answer,” Moss said. “We don’t have any plans on what we’re going to do or where we’re going to move. We’ve pondered it for a lot of years now, and we’re still not any closer now than we were 20 years ago.”

As someone whose business involves development, Moss said he understands the expansion occurring throughout Laveen. For many years, travel was necessary to get any of the amenities found in a city setting, but Moss said he didn’t mind it. Now he’s being forced to trade his rural lifestyle for the sake of convenience.

“We moved out here so we could enjoy our privacy, but we don’t have that anymore,” Moss remarked. “It was inevitable and we knew it.”

With an increase in amenities coming toward Laveen and a rise in residential development, traffic numbers are growing rapidly. As a result, safety is an issue that is being addressed with the new freeway, said Matt Burdick, community relations director for ADOT.

“The intent of the freeway is to attract traffic and move traffic, rather than having that traffic on surface streets,” he added. “Given a choice of having that traffic on the surface streets or the freeway – from a safety standpoint – you’re much better off having the traffic on the freeway.”

From an economic perspective, the freeway is expected to bring plenty of commercial interest, resulting in increased tax revenues that can help support the community. As examples, Burdick points to development in the northwest Valley following the extension of the Loop 101 and a rise in retail, hospitals and major employment centers near the San Tan Freeway corridor in Chandler and Gilbert.

That same type of development may not only occur with the South Mountain Freeway but also with an additional freeway in the Laveen area that is projected to extend west from the South Mountain Freeway into Goodyear and connect with a future section of the Loop 303. Eventually, that freeway would continue to State Route 85 around Buckeye.

“What we are now working on is figuring out where that future freeway would be located, just like we are with the South Mountain Freeway,” Burdick added.
Warren Pitman, general manager of Bougainvillea Golf Club, which is just east of the projected route, has mixed emotions about the freeway. One of the reasons he bought the course was for the projected highway access. However, after getting to know many long-time Laveen residents, he understands their desires for keeping a rural community.

“Now I don’t know how to feel about it,” Pitman said. “From a business standpoint, though, it’s wonderful. We’re going to have major access on Baseline and Southern.”

Instead of hindering home values in the area, Pitman said he believes it will improve them because of the improved access to amenities and downtown Phoenix.

The announcement of a “preferred build alternative” does not rule out a “no action alternative,” in which a freeway would not be constructed. If that choice is selected, a decision would have to be made to determine a means for accommodating the population increase that is projected for the Valley during the next 20 years. The no-build option would only occur if substantial new information relevant to the selection process were discovered.

Currently, there is about $1 billion set aside in the Regional Transportation Plan for right-of-way purchasing, designing and the construction of the South Mountain Freeway. Funding began in 1985 when Maricopa County voters approved a half-cent sales tax to finance a freeway system that included a 22-mile stretch from Interstate 10 in Chandler to Interstate 10 west of downtown Phoenix. This initial round of funding was set to expire at the end of 2005, but voters approved a 20-year extension in November 2004 with the passing of Proposition 400. The proposal was designed to generate financial support for a series of freeway, street and transit improvements.

Funds for construction are budgeted for 2009-2015. Part of the construction would include significant improvements to Interstate 10 between Interstate 17 and the Loop 101, including an additional two or three lanes in each direction.

Next spring, a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the South Mountain Freeway will be released, detailing the reasons why the 55th Avenue Alternative was selected as a preferred option. The draft report, which will be made available for public review for 45 days and during one or more public hearings, will also examine the “no action alternative.”

In late 2007, the public will have another 30-day opportunity to comment on the Final Environmental Impact Statement. Public comments will be used by ADOT and the Federal Highway Administration to make a decision about the project. In addition, ADOT will work with the Maricopa Association of Governments regarding the study recommendation and the regional support to fund the project as part of the Regional Transportation Plan.

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