The people who are scouting a path for the proposed South Mountain Freeway have yet to figure out where it’s going, but they’re finding plenty of frustration and anxiety along the way.
Since a study started last year to find an alignment, a group of Ahwatukee Foothills residents have tried to push the freeway away from their community and southward to the sparsely populated Gila River Indian Community.
The tribal government hasn’t taken a position on the freeway — something that’s frustrating some members of an advisory group that the Arizona Department of Transportation formed.
Member Rock Argabright of Chandler said the tribe’s lack of a position has slowed progress. If the tribe doesn’t want the freeway, it should say that now so planners can look for other routes, Argabright said.
"We’re getting extremely frustrated because of the fact the Indians will not sit down and discuss this," Argabright said. "They won’t put anything on the table. Even if they want to say no, say no. Let’s get this decided one way or the other."
Tribal leaders haven’t taken a position because the freeway’s alignment needs more study, Gila River spokesman Gary Bohnee said.
Some tribal leaders want the freeway for its economic development potential, Bohnee said, while others oppose it because it would go through lands important to the tribe’s history and culture.
Leaders want to take their time weighing those factors and a pending environmental study, he said.
Arizona Rep. John Huppenthal, R-Chandler, has met with tribal leaders and expects a slow process because of the way American Indian cultures view land.
"You’re going to have to be very patient and any attempts to hurry it along are going to backfire and result in a less desirable outcome," Huppenthal said.
The freeway was proposed in the mid-1980s for the Pecos Road alignment. That put the freeway on the southern end of Ahwatukee Foothills. A funding shortfall put the freeway on hold, but houses were later built right up to where the freeway was planned.
Many homeowners assumed the freeway would never be built and are worried about the uncertain alignment, said Argabright, a real estate agent and member of the Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce.
What: Update of South Mountain Freeway study with ADOT officials
When: 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Ironwood Library, 4333 E. Chandler Blvd., Phoenix