Opinion: South Mountain Freeway would ‘forever change’ cycling in Ahwatukee

Cycling in the Ahwatukee area would be forever changed if the Arizona Department of Transportation is allowed to put the proposed South Mountain Freeway Loop 202 along Pecos Road and through three South Mountain west-end ridges.

The grassroots organization Protecting Arizona Resources and Children along with the Gila Indian River Community and eight other environmental and homeowner associations have filed a lawsuit against the Federal Highway Association and ADOT to stop the freeway project and the destruction to the community and South Mountain. ADOT has been urged during the project study to review more sensible freeway alignments, but has ignored proposed alternatives.

PARC encourages all stakeholders, including the cycling community, to get involved and financially support the legal work for the lawsuit that will be heard in federal court on May 12. It is also imperative citizens communicate with their elected officials at all levels of government including Phoenix Valley city officials, Arizona State and U.S. federal government that they need to review and understand the taxpayer waste, the negative environmental and recreational impact and health threat to the South Mountain area.

Lawsuit plaintiffs have followed this project for years and voiced their concerns through a multi-year process that included comments during draft and final environmental impact studies that have largely been brushed off by ADOT.


In summary, the proposed alignment of the freeway creates a bypass around downtown Phoenix with connections to I-10 at Pecos Road and at 59th Avenue. Unfortunately, as illustrated in an ADOT Final Environmental Impact Study chart, the freeway does essentially nothing to improve Valley commute times and brings heavy truck traffic through an area that geographically forms a bowl from surrounding mountains.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency commented during the study that ADOT’s air quality modeling from resulting traffic is faulty and does not reflect the high levels of particulates and poor air quality that would be trapped in the area from the considerably increased traffic.

Further impacts to the recreational use and enjoyment of the area include the noise generated from construction activity and the high volume of truck traffic on the freeway. Imagine the noise level that would bounce off South Mountain from both activities.

Several trails within South Mountain would be directly impacted by the freeway, including the Maricopa and Sun Circle trails, which come off the west-end of South Mountain. Tentative plans are to route the trail under and next to this high-volume road.

Recreational users should also consider the additional negative visual impact an eight-lane freeway would have on their recreational experience while using the park or Ahwatukee surface streets. All of these issues not only affect human use of South Mountain Park, but also are expected to seriously impact animal and plant well-being.

Screen shot 2015-10-13 at 5.08.55 PM

South Mountain would become a biological island with serious restrictions to wildlife movement and diversity. Several biologists who have reviewed ADOT’s plans to address and mitigate these issues don’t see a well-thought out plan or design.

The proposed design, which lacks solid details, does not clearly address the resulting effect of taking away a major surface street, Pecos Road, from the area and shoving all traffic to only two surface streets south of the mountain – Chandler Boulevard and Ray Road.

The freeway only allows for a few exits from the Ahwatukee Foothills onto the freeway with bordering neighborhoods and schools fearful of impending traffic snarls during school start and end times.

Neighborhoods which are now peaceful and quiet places to cycle would become roads competing with recreational users for space. Additionally, plaintiff Don’t Waste Arizona has commented that ADOT’s freeway design does not address safe area evacuation during toxic chemical spills on the freeway.

What can the cycling community do to help protect this important recreational area?

Make tax deductible donations to the legal fund and learn more at protectAZchildren.org.

Go Fund Me: PARC Fights South Mountain Freeway

Write your elected officials and express your concerns to:

  1. Valley of the Sun mayors and Maricopa County Supervisors: members of the Maricopa County Association of Governments (MAG), a group that strongly supports and influences the freeway project.
  2. Arizona State House and Senate Representatives: influence state tax spending
  1. U.S. Federal House and Senate Representatives: influence federal tax spending
  1. Stay informed at

Robin Salthouse is a concerned cyclist in Ahwatukee and the former president of the Phoenix Mountains Preservation Council. Main photo screenshot from ADOT video.

The soon-to-be built South Mountain Freeway will complete the Valley’s Loop 202 network by extending 22 miles from Interstate 10 near Ahwatukee and Chandler then through South Mountain Park. It will rejoin I-10 near 59th Avenue in the West Valley and will have four lanes in each direction, including carpool lanes. Both state and federal transportation agencies say the new freeway is crucial to preventing gridlock.

A grassroots organization fighting ADOT in court is reminding its supporters the fight is far from over, despite a U.S. District Court decision in July not to grant a request to halt progress on the freeway. According to the group’s legal complaint, the freeway could bring a 460 percent increase in traffic and reduce the quality of life for residents in the area.

Opponents are also worried about the environmental impact that bringing thousands of vehicles and trucks through their neighborhoods could have on South Mountain Park. They are worried construction will disturb South Mountain Park as parts of the mountains are leveled. Another lawsuit seeking to halt the South Mountain Freeway is currently working its way through U.S. District Court.

South Mountain Freeway FAQ by azcentral.com