Deck Park Tunnel Repairs Will Damage Part Of Japanese Garden

May 19, 2014

(Photo by Steve Shadley - KJZZ)
Phoenix Japanese Friendship Garden Director Mary Murphy-Bessler and garden board member Kathy Nakagawa in front of one of the manicured trees that will be removed during repair work on the tunnel.
(Photo by Steve Shadley - KJZZ)
The west entrance to the Deck Park Tunnel on Interstate Ten/Papago Freeway in central Phoenix. The Japanese Friendship Garden and Margaret T. Hance Park are on the tunnel's roof.
(Photo by Steve Shadley - KJZZ)
An orange flag marks one of the trees that will be saved during repair work on the Deck Park Tunnel.
(Photo by Steve Shadley - KJZZ)
A trench will be dug in this section of Margaret T. Hance Park during tunnel repairs.
(Photo by Steve Shadley - KJZZ)
This portion of the Phoenix Japanese Friendship Garden will be excavated during repairs on the roof of the I-10 Deck Park Tunnel.

Upcoming repair work on the Interstate 10 Deck Park Tunnel will destroy a portion of the Japanese garden in central Phoenix.  Some people are upset because it has taken years to carefully prune the trees and bushes in a traditional Asian style.

The Deck Park Tunnel opened almost 25 years ago, and Arizona Department of Transportation spokesman Doug Nintzel said it’s beginning to show its age.

“Over time, drivers have had the nuisance of having water dripping on windshields,” Nintzel said.

As cars and trucks move along the freeway below, on top of the tunnel it’s a different world: quiet, green and peaceful.

This is where you’ll find Margaret T. Hance park and the city’s Japanese Friendship Garden. Nintzel said those leaks in the tunnel happen when grass and trees at the parks are watered.

“It’s now dripping into areas that we don’t want it going. It’s a concern that it could compromise electrical systems for the tunnel,” Nintzel said.

ADOT expects to spend nearly $2 million repairing the tunnel’s roof across a long section of both parks. The digging starts in July.

“The project involves trench work where we will be establishing new drainage systems,” Nintzel said.

The trenches will travel across dozens of acres, through a group of trees and bushes, and that concerns some people who love these parks.  Kathy Nakagawa is a board member with the Japanese Friendship Garden.

“We’re talking about a 30-foot-wide swath through the garden that’s going to pretty much take out any kind of grass or trees or plants that is in that path,” Nakagawa said.

Nakagawa and the garden’s director, Mary Murphy-Bessler, walk on a sidewalk past a wrought-iron fence and boulders that will be removed. Murphy-Bessler pointed to a group of large fir trees swaying in the wind.

"Some of these trees that we are staring at right now that are obviously manicured in the Japanese style of a pine tree. This tree here is decades worth of work, that obviously if we were to have to replace that tree we just wouldn’t be able to,” Murphy-Bessler said.

Many of the smaller shrubs and trees can be dug up and replanted after the repairs are done. But Nakagawa said she’s heartbroken because some of the large trees probably won’t make it.

“We think of the garden similar to a museum. What you see here is carefully placed, thoughtfully placed, trees like this are sort of like sculptures…and its destroying a piece of artwork,” Nakagawa said.

She said gardeners from the Phoenix sister city of Himeji, Japan, come occasionally to prune them and provide local landscapers with advice on their care. She said these trees also have a special meaning to people who visit the garden.

“Many of the trees were donated in memory of someone, so I know my own family when my mother passed away, we donated a tree in her memory,” Nakagawa said.

ADOT has agreed to give the city at least $300,000 to replace trees and plants killed during the project. The garden’s tea house and koi pond will be spared. 

Nakagawa said the timing of construction is fortunate because the garden closes each summer anyway. But if it goes beyond September it could disrupt some big events scheduled at Margaret T. Hance Park — namely Oktoberfest, which attracted tens of thousands of people last year.

“Our staff are already working with Oktoberfest staff in looking at other alternative locations of their choice that may work in downtown Phoenix, so we are making that 'plan B' already," said Cynthia Aguilar with Phoenix Parks and Recreation.

The tunnel will remain open to traffic during construction.