"That's not going to make for a lot of happy campers," says Kris Black, a Foothills resident who sits on the development's homeowners' association board.

Black says many area builders have sold homes on the premise that ADOT's planned freeway wouldn't tear through until at least 2006. The sights and sounds of long-haul trucks and other interlopers gear-grinding through subdivision streets doesn't exactly jibe with the image that has sold so many new homes in the foothills.

"The rumor fed to people is that this [toll road] is gonna happen quick," she says. "They see it as a truck bypass and a lot of traffic past our houses."
And that, Black says, would not be a fair trade for whatever relief the toll road might provide to commuters.

Black and others doubt even that projected benefit.
Mountain-preserve activist David Gironda says he's seen studies that show most of the commuters who head in to the city from the Foothills area work east of Central Avenue.

"A limited amount of people down here work in the west Valley," confirms Black, who works in Mesa and so avoids most of the jam-up. Even figuring in the agonies of the daily crawl up I-10, Black says she doubts many of her downtown-commuting neighbors will pay to take the around-the-mountain bypass.

"It's a question to me what the purpose of it is," she says. "If I was driving to L.A., I might use it." @rule:

@body:VUE 2000 is the direct manifestation of an extremely desperate Arizona Department of Transportation.

Of the 231 miles of freeways promised to the Valley by ADOT, only 38 miles have been poured. A half-cent sales tax enacted in 1985 to pay for those miles runs through 2006.

Still, there is some loose talk about dipping into taxpayers' wallets for an additional half-cent tax this fall. If voters were to approve such an increase, perhaps in November's election, ADOT might be able to accelerate some of its road-building plans, which at the current pace stretches the completion date of some highway segments into the science-fiction year of 2030.

But chances of a successful vote are so slim that the big cigars promoting the idea are extremely skittish about even putting it on the ballot. VUE 2000's unique solution--dubbed "a nifty gimmick" by spokesman Bill Hicks--first surfaced last year, when the group proposed to build out all of ADOT's unfinished roads as tollways.

Under that wildly ambitious plan, VUE 2000 would found the nonprofit toll authority and build the roads. In exchange, the three firms composing VUE 2000 would get automatic first dibs on as many of the road-related, for-profit contracts as possible.

That plan was widely panned and faded away--but it resurfaced recently in miniature form at the suggestion of City of Phoenix staffers. "They allowed as how this South Mountain thing, in their view, would make an ideal first segment for our project," says Hicks. "In other words, a good, basic test to demonstrate that the concept worked."

According to ADOT, a California tollway currently in the works is the only known precedent for this kind of nongovernmental road building.

Accordingly, VUE 2000 is still trying to make the South Mountain toll-road numbers work. Hicks says that traffic and engineering studies are under way, and that both will likely be completed soon. "We're talking weeks and months, not years," says Hicks of the studies, adding that he suspects that both will prove "satisfactory and promising."

Still to be decided is the actual toll itself. Current plans call for regular users to be billed monthly through the mail (their trips would be registered electronically), but all other traffic would have to stop and throw pocket change at a toll booth. Or will it be pocket change? Tevlin says his understanding from VUE 2000 is that the proposed toll, which first surfaced in the 50- to 75-cent range, has already jumped to about $1 each way.

@body:Tevlin says city approval of the toll road "would take several months, at least," adding that nobody's deciding anything until the sales-tax ballot intrigue ends. Says Hicks: "We're here as an alternative, whether the thing gets put on the ballot or not."

Should the city approve the idea, it would be passed along to the Maricopa Association of Governments--the organization that oversees urban freeways.

And after MAG approval, ADOT--via the State Transportation Committee--would get the final say-so.

At this early juncture, the long-befuddled ADOT is clearly in favor of the idea. Peggy Rubach, former MAG director, former Mesa mayor and current assistant to ADOT director Larry Bonine, has been assigned to handhold with VUE 2000 as it moves through the bureaucratic process.

ADOT's role in the toll road process, says Rubach, has been to say, "Gee, this is an exciting concept, but there are hoops you have to jump through here, and we will help you jump through them.'"

For its part, VUE 2000 would prefer fewer hoops.
"Wouldn't anybody?" says Hicks. "We're businessmen."

@body:If it were built today, VUE 2000's toll road would barrel through a corridor assembled years ago by ADOT from city, state and private holdings.

The route has been "a line on a map" since the early 1960s, says ADOT spokesman Dan Galvin, but it wasn't officially set until the mid-1980s, back when ADOT was flush and still planning roads.

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