The Road Not Taken

Sometime around the year 2000, the Arizona Department of Transportation is scheduled to begin building the last leg of State Route 101.

The final stretch will run from where the highway currently dead-ends at Glendale to Interstate 10, five miles to the south.

Now, as plans jell, the path of least resistance for the Valley's Agua Fria Freeway happens to run right through a longtime farmer's backyard and straight through the middle of a decades-old dairy farm.

The path takes a jog, however, when it comes to the estatelike home of a powerful and wealthy local developer.

Seventy-five-year-old Rudy Johnson has lived and farmed near the northeast corner of 99th Avenue and Glendale Avenue most of his life. Soon, his house will lie in the shadow of an on-ramp.

Until several months ago, he thought the freeway would give him plenty of breathing space. Then he found out that ADOT had shifted the road 400 feet to the east, off land it purchased from him for $1.5 million in the late 1980s and into his backyard. If the state follows through with the new alignment, taxpayers will have to pay Johnson even more money for the new right of way. And he'll likely get to keep the initial $1.5 million.

A half-mile south of Johnson's house sits a massive dairy. Soon, cows will be displaced by cars, and the dairy's owners aren't happy about being forced to move. They believe Glendale wanted their dairy out of the way to make way for development.

After wiping out the dairy, the proposed 101 follows a collision course to a mansion belonging to west Valley developer John F. Long. Then, it does something strange: It veers two streets to the east.

ADOT officials say it was cheaper to go around Long's home than to buy him out, but they won't provide any documents to that effect. A 1988 study by ADOT consultants looked at possible routes for the proposed freeway; all of them went around Long's house.

Transportation officials familiar with the project referred questions to ADOT spokesman William Rawson. Rawson, however, was unfamiliar with details of the project and declined to ask others working on it for information on cost estimates, possible alternatives, or why the state had decided to pick one option over another.

Rawson says it is ADOT's policy to avoid businesses and homes whenever possible, but doesn't know why his agency decided to take out the dairy but not Long's mansion.

And Long now wants even more concessions. He has big plans for the 1,000 acres that surround his house. And he doesn't want a freeway running through his planned golf-course community.

People familiar with road-building projects say the Loop 101 proposal is business as usual.

"If you look at the history, ADOT has a habit of bending over and grabbing its ankles to please the municipalities," says Jay Dushoff, a Valley attorney who often represents property owners ADOT wants to buy out. "They can't afford to make anyone mad--it has a way of coming back to haunt them the next year in the Legislature."

Rudy Johnson's father came to Arizona around the turn of the century with the hope that the hot, dry desert air would blast his pneumonia into submission.

It worked. Soon, the elder Johnson, a Dutch immigrant, was working as a laborer on Roosevelt Dam. Johnson's father saw what the new dam meant. When construction ended in 1910, he dropped his pick and made his way back to Phoenix in the hopes of homesteading some of the desert opened up to farming by the Roosevelt's waters.

"But all of the good land was already taken, so we just had to settle for the outskirts," Rudy Johnson says.

The Johnsons have farmed in the area ever since the dam's completion. Today, what once passed for the Valley's outskirts are dotted with subdivisions.

From the window behind the desk in Johnson's office, red-tiled roofs can be seen lapping at the edges of farmland to the east of his home, which sits about a quarter mile east of 99th Avenue and just north of Glendale Avenue.

Despite the encroaching subdivisions, Johnson would like to continue farming. And he would like to stay in his house. Until this year, Johnson believed both options were open to him.

In 1988, ADOT paid Johnson $1.5 million for a strip of his farmland running along the eastern side of 99th Avenue and up to Glendale Avenue. Since then, the state changed its plans and has decided to move the freeway to the east about 400 feet. The proposed route still runs through Johnson's property--in fact, it puts the freeway right next to his house.

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Howard Stansfield