As expected, the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway opened to the public before the end of 2019.
Since the Arizona Department of Transportation opened the 22-mile stretch on Dec. 21, a 31-year-old man driving the wrong way near Loop 202 and Elliot Road was killed in a collision with a car hauler. Another wrong-way incident occurred days before that, but minor injuries were reported.
The Daily Independent reached out to the Arizona Department of Public Safety for traffic stop numbers since the freeway opened. DPS provided the following numbers on Wednesday, Jan. 8:
Total Stops: 670
Total Citations: 276
Total Speed Related Citations: 189
The South Mountain Freeway is a $1.7 billion project that finished three years early due to a public-private partnership that saved officials $100 million. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said part of those savings would go towards hiring additional troopers to service the new freeway.
The stretch is also known as the Congressman Ed Pastor Freeway, with designated signs at both entrances near 59th Avenue/Interstate 10 in the West Valley and Loop 202/I-10 in the southeast Valley.
Officials anticipate the freeway will bring about new construction and jobs along the Loop 202 corridor.
Vee Quiva Casino is right off the freeway at the Vee Quiva Way exit, south of Estrella Drive.
Dominic Orozco, chief marketing officer of Gila River Hotels & Casinos, said the new Loop 202 has positively impacted Vee Quiva Hotel & Casino. Since the freeway opened, Mr. Orozco said the casino has witnessed an uptick in visitors from around the Valley.
“We’ve already had visitors from Tucson, Chandler, and Ahwatukee stop by Vee Quiva for a little fun and relaxation as they make their way to West Valley attractions like Gila River Arena,” he said. “We’ve even had visitors from as far as California stop by our property, all thanks to the convenient access the new Loop 202 now provides.”
Guests are telling officials that they are traveling the new freeway to get to Vee Quiva, with their drive time cut in half.
“They are thrilled to have greater access and a shorter commute to all the wonderful entertainment and dining options Vee Quiva offers,” Mr. Orozco said, adding: “While the freeway does give greater access to our guests, it has also provided our own team members with a shorter commute as well as made employment with Gila River a more accessible and convenient option for many people of the Valley.”
Of note, the South Mountain Freeway provides people access to all three Gila River properties: Wild Horse Pass and Lone Butte in the East Valley, and Vee Quiva in the West Valley.
Among other businesses immediately along the route — less than one-quarter mile from the freeway — Sprouts opened in Laveen in September to make healthy groceries accessible to more local shoppers. Those people can now reach the store more easily with the freeway extension, a spokesperson said.
“The store has seen an overall increase in guests who have made the location part of their regular commutes in addition to customers looking for products to support their health in the new year,” Sprouts spokesperson Kalia Pang stated.
Betty Fairfax High School is also less than a mile from the freeway. An official with the Phoenix Union High School District said it has only been a few days that its schools have been operating since the freeway opened — most schools were on break between Dec. 23 and Jan. 3. But according to GPS records, only two district buses have been using the new freeway.
ADOT says the freeway is projected to carry about 117,000 vehicles per day within its first year and as many as 190,000 vehicles per day by 2035.
While the South Mountain Freeway is open, construction projects are still ongoing along the route, including a pedestrian bridge over the freeway at 32nd Street. The entrances and exits at 32nd appeared closed as of Jan. 5.
Also, more than 1,000 saguaro cactuses, palo verde trees and other native plants have been replanted after they were removed during construction.
According to azfamily.com, ADOT is working on reducing traffic noise for residents near the Loop 202 in Ahwatukee. Some homeowners have said the current sound barriers are not working as well as they should. ADOT will determine if they need to extend the walls.
And in light of the fatal wrong-way crash Jan. 4, ADOT is determining where and when to implement wrong-way detection systems along the freeway, similar to what is already in place along Interstate 17 between I-10 and Loop 101, and is currently being worked on along Loop 303 between Grand Avenue in Surprise and I-17 in Phoenix.
Have you driven along the South Mountain Freeway? Share your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.