The decision residents of west Chandler, south Tempe, and most notably the Ahwatukee Foothills have been waiting on for years could finally be made in less than a month as the Gila River Indian Community sends the Loop 202 to a public vote.
Results of the vote, which is scheduled to happen Feb. 7, could be known as early as the next morning, according to Alia Maisonet, spokeswoman for the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC). Residents of GRIC are expected to decide whether or not to allow the Loop 202 extension to be built on their land. If they do not allow the freeway on their land it could mean major demolition for much of South Mountain and the Foothills area.
With Interstate 10 currently the only large-scale connection between the East and West Valleys, the South Mountain Freeway portion of the Loop 202 would provide the first legitimate alternative for residents of the Ahwatukee Foothills or East Valley cities - namely Tempe, Chandler, Gilbert and Queen Creek - to get to the other side of the greater Phoenix area.
As important as this vote could be, Pastor Allan Fuller of Mountain Park Community Church, which could potentially lose its building if the Pecos Road alignment ends up happening, said his congregation is not holding its breath for a final decision to come from this vote.
"There have been a number of other votes and final decisions that have come and gone, so the result of this vote is not as important as the final decision," Fuller said. "This vote could be step 84 on a 215-step process to making a decision."
Fuller said their church will be fine either way - it will find another location - but its members are frustrated by not knowing.
"What we've communicated to our church is the church is not the building, it's the people," Fuller said. "The people are not going to get paved over so we're not concerned about that, but we do have a multi-million-dollar facility to take care of. We do have plans for expansion so we would like to know what to do with it. It's been a dragged out process for years and years, and that's frustrating. Our deal is simply, yet respectfully, land the plane, whether it's on Pecos Road or the reservation, just land the plane."
Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio, who put together a working group of concerned citizens to get the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) to discuss alternate routes for the loop with GRIC, said the next steps would be up to the state and the Indian community.
"At the end of the day the tribal community has 100 percent control over their own land, and everyone respects that," DiCiccio said. "It's their decision. We've done all we can as a community out here. Unfortunately, I don't know if there's anything else a city councilman can do when this is a decision between the state and the tribal community, but I've made a commitment to do all I can. I'm very proud of all the work the community has put into this. Their work has been critical."
Kelly Taft, spokeswoman for Maricopa Association of Governments, said if the Gila River Indian Community votes to allow the freeway on tribal land ADOT would go forward creating a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the community to review.
For now, ADOT is working on a draft EIS for the Pecos Road alignment. That study is expected to be available for public review in late spring or early summer, and public hearings on the study will be held 90 days afterwards.