Judge to hear arguments on S. Mountain freeway

Posted at 7:01 PM, May 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-11 08:38:28-04

A federal judge will hear arguments Wednesday on whether highway planners for the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway violated laws meant to protect the environment.

The judge's decision expected a few weeks after the hearing would determine whether ADOT can begin construction on the controversial project.

The "not in my backyard" battle spans 30 years. Ahwatukee residents say quality of life behind South Mountain conflicts with the desire for more speedy freeways. Tucked into the foothills, residents worry about traffic, noise, crime and air quality.

"I can see the pollution stagnant right there," Anne Harrod predicts."Right on the neighborhood 'cause the mountain is going to keep it in there."

The South Mountain Freeway would connect Ahwatukee and Laveen, serving as a relief valve for truck traffic in downtown Phoenix as well. 

"We are going to get continued growth," ADOT spokesman Dustin Krugel said. "We need to expand our transportation system, so drivers are not stuck in traffic all day."

"At full buildout, you might save one minute on your commute," said attorney Howard Shanker. Hired by the highway opponents, he will argue in federal court that ADOT failed to follow federal rules for highway planning and construction.

"They actually spent a huge amount of money and a huge amount of time doing an environmental impact study," Shanker said. "What we are asserting is they did not do it properly."

He says federal law should also protect South Mountain Park, especially sacred areas for Native Americans. ADOT officials say the highway will only use 0.2 percent of park land for a roadway that will benefit thousands of drivers each day.

"I mean it's not going to destroy the entire mountain," Shanker concedes, adding, "I can tell you they have to comply with Section 4F of the Transportation Act, which is designed to protect parks."

ADOT has moved forward with pre-construction work, including building demolition and utility work, anticipating the judge will rule in the agency's favor. 

"This is a project that has been studied, planned and talked about for more than 30 years, voters have twice approved the project," said Krugel.

Protesters from Protecting Arizona's Resources and Children (PARC) will demonstrate outside the Sandra Day O'Connor Federal Courthouse Wednesday morning before the hearing begins.