Longform

MOVING MOUNTAINSA PROPOSED TOLL ROAD AROUND SOUTH MOUNTAIN WOULD SLICE THROUGH RIDGES

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According to Tevlin, the tollway would at least double the current traffic through Laveen. As an interim solution, Tevlin says, 51st may be widened to two lanes in each direction.

At its eastern end, the toll road would exit its traffic onto Pecos, a dirt strip currently being upgraded into a four-lane road. Despite the projected improvements to Pecos, homeowners in the area are already worried about the traffic generated by the toll road, primarily because there are no plans to build a freeway interchange connecting Pecos to I-10 until the South Mountain Freeway is completed to the interstate, something that's not scheduled to occur until midway through the next decade.

Unless ADOT's plans change uncharacteristically quickly, interstate-bound cars, vans and cross-country truckers from the toll road will be dumped onto Pecos Road. They will then have to make their way about a mile north, past residential tracts, to reach Chandler Boulevard, the nearest thoroughfare that connects with I-10.

"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."

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Dave Walker