Tribe calls for criminal investigation into freeway development group

February 21, 2013

The Gila River Indian Tribal council called for an investigation yesterday into a group that wants to route a freeway through the Gila River Indian Reservation.

freeway sign The South Mountain freeway project has been 30 years in the making. (Photo by Al Macias - KJZZ)

Last year tribal members said no to such a plan, but a developer and other landowners asked for another vote.

KJZZ’s Al Macias reports this is the latest twist for a $2 billion project that began almost 30 years ago.

The South Mountain freeway plans were first drawn up in 1985. The idea was to develop a bypass for traffic traveling on I-10 through Phoenix and relieve congestion through the city.

The Arizona Department of Transportation began acquiring land along the route on the southern edge of Phoenix. Over the last three decades attempts were made to place the route on the Gila River Indian Reservation. Tribal leaders opposed the idea but put it up for a community vote last year. Tribal voters opted for no freeway at all.

Eric Anderson is with the Maricopa Association of Governments which oversees regional transportation planning. Realistically, he says, that’s not an option.

"Without it, it continues to put enormous pressures on I-10, with no really good alternatives, and more importantly for the cities and neighborhoods, it puts a lot more traffic on the surface street system," Anderson said.

Anderson says an environmental impact statement should be completed later this spring. He says this may the longest-running highway construction project in state history.

And now a criminal investigation could postpone a decision on a possible election, causing more delays.