AHWATUKEE, AZ - Protesters will stage at Ahwatukee schools over the next couple days, protesting the proposed expansion of the South Mountain Freeway.
The freeway, which has been met with on-going controversy, would connect Interstate 10 in the East Valley to I-10 on the west side by extending the Loop 202 from Chandler through Laveen.
The community action group "Protecting Arizona's Resources and Children," or "PARC", alleges that the expansion would create environmental dangers to air quality and would increase risk of hazardous materials dangers, in particular to children since the expansion would run within a half mile of 17 schools.
Gail Cochrane, a spokesperson for PARC, talked with ABC15 and quoted a recent EPA study of the plan. She claims it indicates that the expansion is not what it was originally thought to be and that it will increase pollution Valley-wide.
"It is not a done deal," she said.
Cochrane and protesters will be out at schools handing out information to parents to let them know what they say the impact will be to the kids in schools.
ADOT released a statement early Wednesday morning. Read the complete statement below.
ADOT representatives stress that the plan did take into consideration environmental issues. They completed an Environmental Impact Study earlier this year that was subjected to a 90-day review period for the public. The EPA report does not veto ADOT's expansion plan.
A final environmental study will be completed in 2014 with a decision on the plan. If all is approved the expansion construction could start as early as the beginning of the 2015 fiscal year.
The plan would also require several homes along the route to be demolished.
Funding for the expansion was approved by voters both in 1985 and 2004.
The long-proposed South Mountain Freeway has been a planned element of the Ahwatukee community since 1985.
As part of the current study, ADOT and the Federal Highway Administration have carefully evaluated impact of the proposed freeway -- both positive and negative impacts -- including a comprehensive evaluation of air quality. Schools, day care facilities and other sensitive locations are given special consideration in the environmental evaluation.
ADOT has exceeded all federal regulations regarding the evaluation of a new freeway -- we believe the South Mountain Freeway Environmental Impact Study is a comprehensive and well-researched document that will provide decision makers with the information they need on whether or not this project should advance forward.
Despite the EPA's comments, it is important to note that they can only offer comment about a project; the EPA doesn't have the power to veto or otherwise halt a transportation project that meets Federal Highway Administration requirements. The complete Draft Environmental Impact Statement is available on the ADOT website -- www.azdot.gov -- for the public to review. The Final Environmental Impact Statement will be released in 2014 and will include another round of public comment that will guide development of a Record of Decision in 2014. If approved, there is funding to begin construction as early as 2015.
Ultimately, the Valley can continue with congested freeways and traffic gridlocked in the Broadway Curve on I-10 and surface streets -- contributing to air pollution -- or we can implement improvements that have been twice approved by voters to keep traffic around metro Phoenix moving more smoothly and efficiently.