By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Clearly, it was designed then to avoid the Gila River Indian Community boundary--at the expense of the mountain ridges that now stand in the way.
Back when this freeway path was being set, the Indian community objected to the slight westerly jog onto its land for a couple of reasons, according to Cecil Antone, current lieutenant governor of the tribe.
One, there was a desire by the tribe to move the east-west leg of the road farther south to a Queen Creek Road alignment, a move that would have opened up the reservation for commercial development.
Two, the villages of St. Johns and Komatke would tightly border the road, and there was concern about noise and traffic.
According to David Gironda, one of the mountain-preserve activists who still holds hope that the road can bypass the ridges to the west by running onto Indian-community land, the current plan offers little relief from the Indians' noise and traffic concerns.
The flatland detour around the ridges could be built below grade, says Gironda, with built-in noise-abatement berms and walls--a vast improvement from the unshielded ramps and cuts of the ridge road.
"If this thing goes in, it's gonna have such an adverse impact that it will severely degrade the area out there," says Gironda, who hounded ADOT throughout the corridor-setting process almost a decade ago. "You're going to have an elevated ramp with no noise or light barriers whatsoever going into these cuts in the mountain that are gonna be horrendous. The noise, fumes and everything else will not be able to be mitigated."
Antone, interviewed last week by New Times, says the tribe as a whole isn't likely to reopen discussion of any roadway at this late date, unless planners would reconsider the Queen Creek Road route.
"We've never really given serious consideration to directing it farther south," says the city's Jack Tevlin, noting that a Queen Creek alignment would not do enough to ease the I-10 bottleneck. "That doesn't serve our transportation purpose. "Unless the Native American community is interested in seeing the connection change, and they felt that was a positive thing for their community, then probably we're left with the current alignment.
"I know there are people who wish that would happen and who would like to see that happen, but I've never heard of any positive commitment."
@body:The mountain-park preservationists, organized into groups such as the Phoenix Mountains Preservation Council (PMPC), have been pursuing other avenues to stop the ridge-cut road for years. "As soon as it was discovered that the freeway was going to go through the preserve, there's been opposition to it," says Michael Goodman, a longtime mountain-preserve activist who resides in a home directly below the north face of South Mountain Park. "Myself and other people have testified at virtually every opportunity against it."
So far, save-the-ridges action has not expanded beyond the letter-writing and meeting-holding stages.
But rabble-rousers such as Gironda, a real estate appraiser by profession, and Goodman, whose profession appears to be full-time authority questioning, can reel off several potential strategies to halt or reroute the road. Gironda places a lot of hope in a supposedly precedent-setting case out of Texas, in which the state tried to build a freeway through parkland but was stopped by the courts.
Another possible trip-wire might be the toll road's effect on air quality, say the mountain watchers. The road will have to be cleared by an acronym hell of pollution-control authorities.
Considering the players lined up behind it, though, the project already has considerable momentum.
"They might find loopholes enough to get it done, I realize that," says Gironda. "But the public outcry afterwards and the serious impacts upon the Indian community out there, as well as any user of South Mountain Park, will be eternal. It's never going to end."
Ironically, a final glimmer of hope for the preservationists may be the cost of the cuts themselves. Extrapolating from excavation cost estimates made years ago by ADOT, Gironda says the solid-rock excavation could cost VUE 2000 as much as $30 million. While Hicks allows that it "sounds like it might be cheaper if we can avoid a major excavation" through the ridges--a point also noted by Phoenix City Councilmember Skip Rimsza before a recent meeting of the PMPC--Hicks adds: "I respect the rights of people who have their agendas and their causes. That's important.
"But once we start the process, it would be very damaging to the program to have somebody throw up a stink," he continues. "We want to sort through all those issues up-front, make sure they're all sorted out. "All we're doing is taking a path that ADOT has prescribed and trying to do the engineering and financing analysis. If they want to move it farther west and they want us to make that analysis, we can do that." Concludes the City of Phoenix's Tevlin of possible challenges to the toll road's right of way: "I think we've touched all of the legal bases on that question. There have been questions about the legality of the current alignment. I think all of that has been carefully researched, and there are no legal obstacles to it. There may be emotional obstacles to it.