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South Mountain Freeway

Airdate: August 6, 2015
The South Mountain Freeway in Phoenix would finish the Loop 202 freeway, but it has its opponents. Steve Brittle of Protecting Arizona’s Resources and Children will talk about why his coalition is against the new 22-mile stretch of freeway.

  • Steve Brittle - Protecting Arizona’s Resources and Children
Category: Environment

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TED SIMONS: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," we’ll hear from those opposed to the South Mountain Freeway.

Also tonight, details on the 2015 Heart Ball to benefit the American Heart Association.

And we’ll look at an exhibit that marks the 70th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Japan. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon."

"Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

TED SIMONS: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The U.S. Forest Service has decided to take another look at plans to remove up to 100 wild horses along the salt river northeast of Phoenix, this after a public backlash against the move. The forest service says it will meet with state and local officials to find alternatives to removing the horses. Tonto National Forest officials consider the free-roaming horses as stray animals and a danger to public safety.

The Loop-202 South Mountain Freeway is designed to route I-10 through traffic away from the Central Phoenix Corridor and thus ease local congestion, but the freeway is being fought by a coalition of groups called PARC, or Protecting Arizona’s Resources and Children. Here now to explain that opposition is PARC’s Steve Brittle. Good to have you here, thanks for joining us.

STEVE BRITTLE: Thank you for having me. I really enjoy the opportunity to talk to the public about our concerns. One of the things I want to clear up right away is that it's advertised as a way to reduce traffic congestion and how vital it is. But I have an exhibit here right from the final environmental impact study and it doesn't save anybody any time at all. If you're driving from Avondale to downtown Mesa, it will save you two minutes. Now, $2 billion freeway, that's about $1 billion a minute. And I don't think these figures are right. If you look at the traffic right now from 4:00 in the afternoon on, we have terrible congestion on our freeways. Can you imagine a 59th avenue where this is backed up from 59th avenue all the way around almost to the airport, through the tunnel, adding another 1,000 or 2,000 trucks onto that freeway?

TED SIMONS: Are you saying that a route that would take trucks, commercial traffic, those just looking to get through Phoenix as opposed to getting to Phoenix, that going around the central corridor and the central area would not help with congestion?

STEVE BRITTLE: It won't help at all. In fact, I would say we'll make this whole thing one big parking lot. It already is for part of the day. They're going to route back onto I-10 on both the east and the west, and those are already terribly congested and backed up. I think it's a disaster. And when you really look at the big picture, I don't think they've done a real good job in designing our freeway system here.

TED SIMONS: Well, there's also an idea of a superfreeway for the Broadway curve where the local traffic would have a bunch of lanes and through traffic, is that idea better for you?

STEVE BRITTLE: It's not even included in the final, which goes back to one of our other concerns. We, PARC, hired two transportation firms to review. They said there's a congestion problem but this won't solve it. And the process requires you to look all the alternatives and look at environmental impacts and mitigate them. They never looked at any of them.

If this wouldn't solve it or wouldn’t solve it, what would?

STEVE BRITTLE: We want them to go back to the drawing board and do an honest process where they actually just don't try to cook the books. To give you perspective on this, they came out with the draft environmental impact study in 2013, this was after 12 years and $22 million had been spent. The EPA said this is inadequate. You haven't even done the transportation conformity analysis in order to be able to connect to a federal highway. How could you have spent more than a decade and $22 million and not done that? When they came out with the final environmental impact study, they still hadn't done the conformity analysis for the alignment. It gets darker than that, though. When we looked -- I did a lot of review and they spent over $90 million before the draft ever came out, acquiring properties along the alignment and only along 59th avenue alignment which they were pretending there were three alternatives. They ran a citizens advisory team to determine, you know, recommendations. That group voted don't build it. They won't solve the problem. They said you should move it further out to the west and they didn't do that, either.

TED SIMONS: There's also an environmental study that suggests that air quality will suffer if this freeway is not built.

STEVE BRITTLE: And well, let's talk about that. You know, one of the problems that is -- that makes this an intractable solution, is south mountain and the very narrow pass they plan to route this through already causes a bottleneck to the point where some of the worst air toxics in the country are right around that pass. They're called mobile source air toxics. By adding another freeway, it will cause localized, very serious problems. Now, our health expert, an internationally recognized health expert, pointed out all of this out and said it will stunt the lungs of children both sides of the mountain. It will cause premature death in older people. Obviously, it will cause adverse health effects. They never even responded to his comments. And, in fact, they didn't respond to almost anybody.

TED SIMONS: Why would the feds clear the way for this? If it were so bad for congestion, if it were so bad for the environment, if it was going to damage children?

STEVE BRITTLE: Well, we walked into this with the assumption that they would be a little bit more objective. But they build freeways and if you look into the litigation around the country, it's almost like the same story everywhere, where they just okay. All these things and people take them to court and say you didn't do this right and it will cause all these problems and time after time the judges say do it over, do it right.

TED SIMONS: For those who say and supporters and we will have supporters on Monday, the public's been engaged, 8,000 plus formal comments have been documented and considered. Reams of studies, 10 years of environment -- all this work has been done, this has been known to be coming along the pipeline for decades, you say...
STEVE BRITTLE: You have to go through this process to get federal dollars and you have to do it right. And then there are other issues here. You're going to blast into a sacred mountain for the native Americans. Now, we wouldn't put a freeway exit through the Sistine chapel but they're pretending this is okay. They're ignoring these people's concerns.

TED SIMONS: Are you against this proposed route, this idea for a route, or are you against any freeway?

STEVE BRITTLE: No, I'm not against -- I'm against this one in this location. It doesn't work. It will cause health problems. That's why I'm involved. It also sets these people up for a total hazmat disaster. It's called the largest cul-de-sac in the world. I spent 10 years in the local emergency planning community, I know a lot about hazmat. We pointed out if there's a chemical spill there, it will blow into the community, they can't get out. This is the setup. And they never responded. Their comments on hazardous materials is they might dig up some along the way while they're in construction. They just ignored it like that in every other thing. They're also blasting in our park. There's actually federal law that says you have to find every possible way around that and they just ignored all of that, too.

TED SIMONS: For the supporters who say the process thus far has been very transparent, everyone knows what they're getting into, do you agree with that?

STEVE BRITTLE: No, in fact, they're supposed to turn over the administrative record now that litigation has started. We don't see it. We're still waiting for that. They spent 20 some million dollars and they can't cough up the documents? It's not a wonderful thing that's going on here. It's a railroad job, it's a steamroller.

TED SIMONS: So last question. I think even supporters, it's not perfect. Nothing in this world especially of that magnitude is perfect but it is good for the region in many ways, commercially, in terms of congestion and in terms of just keeping the traffic flow going again with the environmental impact says if you don't build it it's going to be even worse. Your response?

STEVE BRITTLE: Actually, their response is it won't help congestion at all. I would like them to do an honest study and really look for an alternative like maybe more buses, more transit, different routes. There are a lot of other options that they were supposed to examine and they just blew past all of them.

TED SIMONS: Real quickly. Is there possibly a way to increase buses that would alleviate what is a growing traffic concern around the Broadway curve?

STEVE BRITTLE: We've got to look at a combination of that or light rail or a lot of other options. The problem is they wanted the freeway and they tried to do this whole process to justify it rather than doing an honest approach. Let's put our heads together and solve the problem, don't just railroad us with this freeway.

TED SIMONS: I'm glad we had you on. Thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

STEVE BRITTLE: Thank you Ted, I'm going to leave that with you.