Arizona highway will open by end of the year

The Associated Press

Gila River Tribe waged unsuccessful court fight to block construction

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey joined the mayors of Phoenix and Tempe and the president of the Gila River Indian Community to christen the new South Mountain Freeway on Wednesday.

Construction is nearly done on the 22-mile (35-kilometer) freeway that will allow drivers to bypass downtown Phoenix. The $1.7 billion freeway is set to open by the end of the year. 

It will connect the western Phoenix suburbs with those on the eastern side and connect with Interstate 10 on each end. It is expected to carry nearly 120,000 vehicles a day in its first year and allow drivers to bypass central Phoenix and its heavy traffic. 

The freeway was paid for with federal funds, cash from a Maricopa County transportation tax and state gas tax money.

It will formally be called the Congressman Ed Pastor Freeway in honor of the late representative who helped secure federal funding for numerous public infrastructure projects in metro Phoenix. Pastor family members were present for Wednesday's event.

"Arizona has benefited from the foresight and innovation of past leaders who have positioned our state as a trade and transportation hub," Ducey said in statement announcing the ceremony. "This new highway — the largest highway project in state history — represents Arizona's continued commitment to 21st century infrastructure that will enable our state's growth for generations to come."

Approved by Maricopa County voters in 1985 and again in 2004 as part of a comprehensive regional transportation plan, the South Mountain Freeway will complete the Loop 202 and Loop 101 freeway system.

Work began in late 2016 with a connection to the Loop 202. Construction of the freeway and its numerous bridges began in earnest in 2017.

Much of the freeway's route is along the foothills of South Mountain, a range along Phoenix's southern border that is considered sacred by the nearby Gila River Indian Community. 

The tribe waged an unsuccessful court fight to block construction. A coalition of environmental and community groups also opposed it. 

Numerous homes were purchased and demolished along the route.

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