Longform

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

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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.

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@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."
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@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.

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."
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@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."

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Dave Walker