By Brenna Goth for The Arizona Republic
Lawyers representing opponents of the South Mountain Freeway and the transportation agencies they’re suing to stop the project debated in federal court May 11 about whether planning for the Loop 202 extension followed the law.
U.S. District Court Judge Diane Humetewa heard nearly five hours of oral arguments in the lawsuits filed by a coalition of environmental and community groups, as well as the Gila River Indian Community, to block the estimated $1.75B freeway expansion. Construction is scheduled to start this summer and demolition of structures in the path has begun.
Dozens of attendees packed the Phoenix courtroom, where Humetewa took the case under advisement and did not make a decision. Opponents met outside beforehand, chanting “No 202!” and “Save the mountain!”
The groups argue the Arizona Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration did not fully analyze the consequences of the project and other alternatives to mitigating Valley traffic congestion, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
The groups also cited the Department of Transportation Act, which prohibits agencies from using public lands, like the South Mountain preserve, unless there’s no alternative.
The agencies, though, said an abundance of research on the need for the freeway, its impacts and mitigation strategies contributed to the plan and followed the laws.
The roughly 22-mile freeway expansion would connect Interstate 10 from Phoenix to Chandler through part of the South Mountain Preserve, bypassing downtown. The land borders the Gila River Reservation and the Ahwatukee Foothills neighborhood.
Humetewa questioned both sides, focusing on potential impacts on the tribe, as well as public input and outreach opportunities the agencies included in project planning.
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