Ahwatukee homeowners told get ready to move; the 202 is coming through

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX -- The price of progress is the possibility of nearly 200 Ahwatukee homeowners having to move out of the way of the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway.  

It's been a controversial topic for more than two decades and now the Arizona Department of Transportation is letting homeowners know it's finally happening. 

The long fabled shortcut around South Mountain is one federal approval away from moving forward to the construction phase that could begin as early as 2016. 
 
"It's kind of sad because all my kids were born in this house," said James Voss, holding a letter from ADOT to homeowners who are in the freeway's path. 
 
Voss said he has known the freeway might come through his front door since he bought the house in 2000. But now, holding his ADOT letter, he has quite a few questions. 
 
"Actually, I was scheduled to get a new roof on here next week because it's leaking badly inside. So if I put $10,000 into the roof, am I going to get that back?" Voss pondered. 
 
ADOT said there are roughly 400 private properties -- including 200 homes -- along the proposed South Mountain Freeway route that runs west along Pecos and connects to the I-10 around 59th Avenue. The highway project's $1.9 billion budget includes the price of the state buying those properties and it already owns a handful. 
 
"We want to work with homeowners and business owners on a price we can reasonably pay for their house or for their business, really looking at it from a fair market value standpoint," said ADOT spokesman Timothy Tait. "[Relocating people] is not something we like to do, but it's just a reality of constructing a highway in an urban environment."
 
But some homeowners are wary of whether fair market value will be fair to their financial situation. 
 
"I've just got a bad feeling that it may not turn out well," said Mark Bennink, another homeowner along the proposed route. 
 
"Am I going to be able to buy another comparable house in Ahwatukee for this price right now or not?" Voss asked. "Is it a downgrade or upgrade or what because I know a lot of people are going to have that issue because there are some people here that owe a lot more on their homes than they're worth."
 
ADOT said a last resort would be enforcing eminent domain -- a court process that transfers personal property to the state.
 
ADOT expects the final federal approval for the project to come through in the first part of 2015. Demolition of homes would take place throughout 2015 with construction breaking ground on the new freeway in 2016. Construction on the 22-mile freeway extension is expected to last four or five years.