The long-awaited Draft Environmental Impact Study on the potential effects of the proposed South Mountain Loop 202 Freeway extension — a project that would give the East Valley another artery to the Phoenix region’s west side — is now available to the public for review and comment.
The draft EIS report is available for download at azdot.gov/SouthMountainFreeway or can be reviewed in person at the Phoenix Public Library Ironwood Branch, 4333 E. Chandler Blvd., and the FedEx Office Print and Ship Center, 4940 E. Ray Road, for 90-days from its start day of April 26. Both in-person locations are in Ahwatukee.
The South Mountain Citizens Advisory Team was given an explanation of National Environmental Policy Act laws and regulations regarding air quality during an April 22 meeting.
The meeting included a presentation from four air quality experts and was meant to help members of the SMCAT to understand the information included in the DEIS.
Questions specific to the Loop 202 were not addressed. Those questions will be answered at a future SMCAT meeting sometime in June after representatives have had a chance to review the DEIS.
Studies presented by the experts showed that air pollution from a freeway may not be as big of a health risk as people think. Their data showed that pollution has gone down significantly in recent years because of new car, truck and bus standards and new fuel requirements.
“The federal government cannot cause a new air quality violation, worsen an existing violation or delay attainment of the standards,” Jeff Houk, air quality specialist for the Federal Highway Administration, said.
The Valley has had no EPA violations for carbon monoxide since 1996 and a plan recently submitted to the EPA demonstrates that standards will continue to be met through 2025, said Lindy Bauer, environmental director for the Maricopa Association of Governments.
The EPA recently raised standards for ozone pollutants so while the Valley has met and is expected to continue to meet the .08 parts per million requirement, it has not yet met the new .075 parts per million standard. Bauer said the Valley has met all particulate matter (PM-10) requirements during stagnant conditions since 2007, pending the EPA’s approval of exemptions for “exceptional events.”
All slides shown by the panel are available for review at SouthMountainFreeway.com under “Meeting and Notices” and “Citizens Advisory Team.”
While the SMCAT will vote for the “build” or “no build” option for the freeway, they are not a decision-making body.
Several protestors showed up to the meeting Monday, wearing masks and carrying signs in opposition of any pollution that might come. Jim Jochim, treasurer for Protecting Arizona’s Resources and Children, a non-profit set to fight the freeway from going down Pecos Road, said the information presented was like “trying to drink from a fire hose,” in that is was all very technical and would take years to fully understand.
There are several ways for the public to comment on the Draft EIS. Comments can be submitted by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, via phone at (602) 712-7006 or by mail to the South Mountain Study Team, 1655 W. Jackson St. MD 126F, Phoenix, AZ 85007. ADOT is also planning a day-long public hearing on May 21 at the Phoenix Convention Center, 100 N. 3rd St.
Public comments must be submitted by July 24.
“Following review of the draft environmental impact statement, the project’s study team will incorporate input gained from comments to produce the final environmental impact statement,” said a statement from ADOT. “This final document will have a 60-day public review period. If approved, funding to begin construction of the South Mountain Freeway is available as soon as 2015, according to the state’s Five-Year Transportation Facilities Construction Program.”
It could be 10 months to more than a year between the end of the comment period on the DEIS and the release of the final EIS.