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Posted: Friday, December 15, 2006 4:36 am

State transportation planners are counting on a mid-fiscal year budget boost to ensure the Williams Gateway Freeway project in east Mesa won’t provoke a repeat of the Loop 202’s South Mountain Freeway controversy afoot in Ahwatukee Foothills.

The State Transportation Board is expected to vote today on a $307 million appropriations package that would accelerate seven Valley freeway projects by two to 14 years.

It includes $20 million for purchasing the right of way for the future state Route 802’s Williams Gateway Freeway alignment, which stretches between Loop 202’s Santan Freeway and Meridian Road.

The Maricopa Association of Governments, made up of county, municipal and American Indian offi cials, approved the county portion Wednesday.

If the transportation board endorses the spending plan, the Arizona Department of Transportation next year would be able to start buying the estimated $100 million worth of private land needed to build the Williams Gateway Freeway.

Otherwise, the right of way purchase wouldn’t be funded until 2014. ADOT offi cials fear that would give property owners too much time to build on the primarily undeveloped land.

That’s exactly what has happened since ADOT chose a proposed alignment in 1988 for the South Mountain Freeway along Pecos Road in Ahwatukee. At the time, the department didn’t have a budget to purchase the necessary right of way.

Although the department has since bought some of the land, about 220 homes have been built in the area that would need to be condemned and demolished, meaning higher costs for ADOT and heartache for the homeowners.

“A lot of development activities have taken place,” ADOT spokesman Matt Burdick said. “Some are directly in the proposed freeway path.”

A group of Ahwatukee residents recently formed a nonprofit corporation to fi ght the proposed South Mountain Freeway on the grounds that it would pose a number of environmental hazards for residents and wildlife. In addition, they argue the freeway’s $2 billion cost is too high and its benefits too limited.

Burdick said the lesson learned by ADOT and the local leaders who guide its decisions is: don’t wait too long before buying right of way once a freeway’s path has been determined.

“We’d much rather acquire that now,” he said of the Williams Gateway Freeway land.

The additional money would come from a $307 million appropriation known as the Statewide Transportation Acceleration Needs account, approved by the state Legislature in July.

About $193 million would be used to accelerate six other freeway projects in Maricopa County, all of which are included in the 20-year Regional Transportation Plan that voters approved in 2004. The balance would be spent on projects in other counties.

The proposal includes two other East Valley freeway projects, both of which involve adding carpool lanes on sections of Loop 101.

Nearly $39 million would go toward a carpool lane on Loop 101 from Baseline Road south to the Loop 202 interchange beginning in 2008, two years ahead of the current schedule.

Construction on another Loop 101 carpool lane between Tatum Boulevard and Princess Drive also would start that year — three years ahead of schedule — at a cost of about $33 million.

Fast lane for freeway projects

The State Transportation Board will vote today on spending $307 million in state funds to accelerate freeway projects across Arizona. Transportation officials hope buying the land sooner will help avoid conflicts associated with future development.

Loop 303

Build partial interchange Cost: $12 million Revised start date: 2008 Original start date: 2011

Loop 303

Build bridge structures Cost: $10 million Revised start date: 2008 Original start date: 2011 Interstate 17 from Anthem Way to Carefree Highway

Add general purpose lane Cost: $33.1 million Revised start date: 2009

Original start date: 2023

Loop 101 from Tatum Boulevard to Princess Drive

Add HOV lane Cost: $32.6 million Revised start date: 2008 Original start date: 2011

Interstate 10 from Verrado Way to Sarival Avenue

Add general purpose lane Cost: $46.9 million Revised start date: 2009 Original start date: 2023

Loop 101 from Baseline Road to Loop 202

Add HOV lane Cost: $38.5 million Revised start date: 2008

Original start date: 2010

Williams Gateway Freeway from Loop 202 to Meridian Road

Buying right of way Cost: $100 million Revised start date: 2007

Original start date: 2014

SOURCE: Arizona Department of Transportation

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