You invite a handful of friends to stop by your new house, telling them it’s just off Loop 202 and Gilbert Road. Simple enough, right?
Not for much longer.
Give those directions today, and your guests would head for north Mesa.
But say the same thing in a year, and there’s a good chance a few of your guests would look for your house 13 miles south in Chandler. That’s because in late 2005, a new leg of Loop 202 will create a second intersection of the freeway with Gilbert Road.
If that’s not confusing enough, consider this: Loop 202 will eventually cross nine streets twice by the time it’s completed in 2007.
And it already crosses Loop 101 twice, making for two Loop 101/202 interchanges.
East Valley residents and transportation officials say the loop numbering system will create headaches for everybody from tourists to emergency responders to traffic reporters who help everybody else get around.
"It’s going to be a problem," said Jim Willinger, president of Phoenix-based Wide World of Maps. "And I imagine it will hit the news biggest and boldest when there’s an emergency that routes emergency vehicles to the wrong side of the loop."
But Arizona Department of Transportation spokesman Doug Nintzel said the department already has a system to help drivers differentiate the segments of Loop 202.
The freeway is known as the Red Mountain Freeway north of U.S. 60 and the Santan Freeway south of U.S. 60. A proposed stretch of Loop 202 south of South Mountain will take the name South Mountain Freeway.
Nintzel said the transportation department is taking steps to promote the use of these names.
Valley planners considered separate numbers for different parts of the loops when the Valley designed a massive freeway expansion in the mid-1980s, Nintzel said. But they settled on Loop 101 and Loop 202.
"There are two ways of looking at it, and nearly 20 years ago the folks decided it would be a lot easier to have fewer numbers for people to memorize," Nintzel said.
Others aren’t so sure.
"I wish they had given them different numbers," said Dan Beach, better known to Valley drivers as KTAR (620 AM) traffic reporter "Detour Dan." "I think it would reduce confusion, especially for the ones in the East Valley. That’s who it’s going to affect the most."
Beach said ADOT does a good job to help people understand freeways and acknowledges other numbering systems have downsides, too. He uses numbers in his on-air reports along with phrases such as "east side," a city’s name or a landmark to help drivers figure out what he’s describing.
He said he stays away from freeway names.
"I learned a long time ago from listeners who say they’re new to the Valley and they don’t know what the Superstition is or the Black Canyon," Beach said, referring to U.S. 60 and Interstate 17. "It’s better to stick with the numbers."
Beach suggested renaming part of Loop 202 so it doesn’t cross the same streets twice. For example, the Santan leg might be called Loop 201.
Ahwatukee Foothills resident Gerry Grienman agreed that ADOT should renumber the Santan portion of Loop 202 because he has already found confused drivers.
"It’s especially difficult when I have visitors from out of town," Grienman said. "They see 202 and they say, ‘That’s the road I want.’ And I say, ‘No, that’s not the road you want. That’s the northern branch.’ "
Police and fire dispatchers said it’s unlikely they would dispatch crews to the wrong place because of safeguards already in place.
Mesa dispatchers are required to ask callers what city they’re in, said Erika Wilson, who oversees fire and police telephone operations in the city. They ask for other clues if callers are unsure.
"If a caller is unable to tell us which location they’re at, we would dispatch to both locations," Wilson said.