The Arizona Department of Transportation is delaying by a year any decision about the future route of a new freeway through Ahwatukee Foothills that would link portions of Interstate 10 in the East Valley with the West Valley while bypassing central Phoenix.
This revelation came at the same time that the Gila River Indian Community agreed to allow an environmental impact study of one possible route through the reservation that could avoid the destruction of more than 200 Ahwatukee homes, Tribune writer Garin Groff reported last week.
ADOT spokesman Doug Nintzel wants us to believe the timing of these two announcements was mere coincidence, even though the environmental study is expected to be finished in about a year. Regardless of the public statements, this is another sign that Gila River officials are gradually softening their previous adamant opposition to using largely vacant tribal land for the proposed South Mountain freeway section of the Loop 202.
The tribe already proved recently that it can protect its interests while working positively with neighbors on regional issues, when it decided to move the planned site for a new casino away from an area with homes just across Hunt Highway and into a more industrial-oriented zone.
The Valley and all of Arizona need the South Mountain freeway to be built — really, we needed it yesterday. But a 12-month delay now means the state can continue delicate negotiations with Gila River that might lead to a route most people will accept.
If the state is forced to start condemning upscale Ahwatukee homes, the lawsuits that inevitably will follow could prevent construction of the freeway for much, much longer.