South Mountain Freeway in Phoenix to Have Multi-Use Path With Safety Barrier

In a nod to the non-motorized world, the new South Mountain Freeway in Phoenix will include six miles of multi-use path in Ahwatukee when it's completed in late 2019.

The path parallel to the $2 billion, 22-mile Loop 202 extension was needed because the freeway will wipe out most of Pecos Road west of the Interstate 10 East.

With its picturesque view south of undeveloped land on the Gila River Indian Community, Pecos Road is used heavily by joggers, walkers, and bicyclists. By running the bike path adjacent to the freeway, which will lay over what is now Pecos Road, the area's convenient bicycle access and outdoor amenity can be preserved.

The idea for the path was studied by the Arizona Department of Transportation and Maricopa Association of Governments and rejected as too costly and potentially dangerous. Following selection in late February of a team to design, build and maintain the freeway, a move that saved $100 million from the project, the path plan was confirmed.

Planners envision a 15-foot-wide, paved trail just south of the freeway lanes, going from about 40th Street to 17th Avenue. The path will be separated from the speeding vehicles by some sort of barrier — but just what kind of barrier, officials aren't yet sure.

With vehicles moving more than a mile a minute right next to kids in strollers and people riding bicycles, something solid better be in place.

On San Diego's State Route 56, which has a multi-use path adjacent to the freeway separated by a chain-link fence, a notorious collision in 2011 involved a SUV flying off the road into 40-year-old bio-energy company official and triathlete Nick Venuto, who had been riding his bike. California bicycle advocates have noted other instances in which cars blew through a chain-link fence onto the bike path.

Eric Anderson, MAG transportation director, says concrete jersey barriers probably will separate the path from vehicles. But Dustin Krugel, an ADOT spokesman, says it's too soon to confirm what the separation barrier will be.

"Safety will be a top priority in developing this shared-use path, not only for the outdoor enthusiasts who travel along it but also motorists who will be using this new freeway by the end of 2019," Krugel says.

For the long term, transportation officials are working on pedestrian bridges that will allow people to walk or bike over freeways without needing to use busy intersections. One will be built in Tempe across I-10 East, another on Guadalupe Road, Anderson says. MAG is in talks with the Salt River Maricopa-Pima Indian Community about a pedestrian bridge over Loop 101 near Talking Stick Resort, but negotiations are still in a "preliminary status," he says.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.