Could Arizona Freeway Be Named After Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?

Published: Wednesday, December 20, 2017 - 3:15pm
Updated: Wednesday, December 20, 2017 - 3:23pm
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Martin Luther King Jr. addresses a crowd at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. where he delivered his famous, “I Have a Dream,” speech, Aug. 28, 1963.

It’s been nearly three years since Phoenix created a road designation to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

When the city added ceremonial signage with the civil-rights leader’s name along a 13-mile stretch of Broadway Road, many expected King’s name to eventually replace Broadway. That hasn’t happened, and now one woman’s push to get the city to act has council members exploring a potential freeway name.

“To me, the dual signage is an offensive reminder that we as a city have not moved forward on this,” Joanne Scott Woods told council members during last week’s meeting.

In her petition, Woods asked the city to study the feasibility of officially changing Broadway Road to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and to come up with a budget to fund the change within two years.

Staff reviewed and denied her request. Instead, they recommended she follow the existing process to change a street name. It requires 75 percent of property owners to agree and that seemed a bit much to Vice Mayor Laura Pastor.

“We received a citizen petition, and now we’re going to go ask citizen groups to organize themselves and work the whole Broadway corridor to get 75,” she said. “I don’t know if that’s very appropriate in the sense of having citizens — all the work that’s going to go into that. I mean look at what happened to the group homes and that’s 11 months, 12 months.”

City Manager Ed Zuercher said the process, as adopted by council, is designed “... not to be easy because changing the name of a street, particularly of the Broadway Road from 48th Street to 99th Avenue in Phoenix is an enormous task.”

According to a city report, the stretch of Broadway Road in south Phoenix contains more than 730 commercial parcels and more than 140 parcels zoned residential. Many contain multiple addresses with various tenants and residents.  Getting buy-in from 75 percent of property owners could take years and that’s why Councilman Jim Waring offered a suggestion.

“Put our lobbyists and ourselves to work and so forth petitioning the state to name the new freeway, South Mountain freeway, after Dr. King,” he said.

The new freeway is expected to open within three years, and Waring thinks it could provide a faster route based on the renaming of State Route 51 to Piestewa Freeway in honor of Lori Piestewa. She was the first known American Indian woman to die in combat on foreign soil. A member of the Hopi tribe, Piestewa was killed in Iraq in 2003.

“I cannot remember what the process was, but there was a process and it happened and it went quickly,” Waring said. “We would find that out, we would let them know, but I think rather than put the onus on the citizen we would do the heavy lifting, but that is as vote for another day. Today, we’re just asking staff to go find out.” 

Council directed staff to research how the state names and renames freeways. Council will then decide what to do next.

The Street Transportation Department estimates it would cost $200,000 to replace all city street signs along Broadway Road. Changing the name would also require coordination with the county to update signage west of 51st Avenue where the road borders unincorporated Maricopa County islands and there would be freeway signage costs for exit purposes from Interstate 10.

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