Future of Loop 202 extension on the ballot today

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PHOENIX -- Members of the Gila River Indian Community today will decide the fate of a proposed extension of Loop 202.

At issue is whether to allow the state to build the freeway 0.5 mile south of Pecos Road, which is tribal land.

If the tribe denies permission to build on their land, the state will have to build through the Ahwatukee foothills. That will require the state to buy dozens of homes and even a church that are sitting in the path of the proposed roadway. In addition, crews will have to blast through the southwest corner of South Mountain in order to connect with 59th Avenue.

Planners say this freeway extension is essential because it links the east and west sides of the Valley, connecting Laveen and Chandler while bypassing downtown Phoenix.

This proposed eight-lane, 22-mile stretch of freeway has been the center of debate for years.

Opponents fear the route would increase traffic and thus air pollution. In addition, there are concerns about about the impact on wildlife. Many also want to protect land they consider sacred.

Voters have basically three options. First, they can say the freeway extension should be built along Pecos Road through the Ahwatukee Foothills. Second, they can allow the state to build on their land to the south of Pecos Road. Third, they can oppose both routes and say the freeway should not be built at all.

The Gila River Indian Community is a sovereign nation and can decide whether to allow the state to build on its land. According to the Arizona Department of Transportation, the Tribal Council had opposed this project since August 2000, but in January 2010, the GRIC governor outlined conditions under which the tribe might consider green-lighting construction. Last fall the council decided to put it a community-wide vote.

Once ADOT knows what its options are, it can move ahead with various impact studies to help the decision-making process.

ADOT hopes to have a final decision in place by the end of next year. Current plans include funding for the corridor in fiscal year 2014, but at this point, it's not clear when construction would begin.