Though billed as an announcement by Governor Doug Ducey as an event to unveil the opening date for the Congressman Ed Pastor Freeway, the gathering last week on one of its new Salt River Bridges was more a celebration built around an uncertainty.
None of the speakers during the 40 minutes or so of speeches mentioned a date.
And when AFN asked Arizona Department of Transportation Director John Halikowsky afterward when the freeway would finally be open, all he would say is, “Soon.”
And three days after the Dec. 18, the long-awaited, long-planned and – for some Ahwatukee residents – long-dreaded freeway opened to traffic early Saturday afternoon, Dec. 21.
“You know, we’re committed to opening by the end of the year,” he vowed during the celebration on Dec. 18. “We’re just finishing up some final details and we have a final inspection to go through now.”
“Our inspectors, our technicians will be taking a look at all of the features and making sure everything’s done the way that it’s supposed to be done.”
ADOT spokesman Tom Herrmann subsequently said that work included “the last step in the paving process. “The rubber friction course has yet to be placed and the reflectors will be placed once that’s done.”
Despite the uncertainty that surrounded an actual opening date, the mood on the Salt River span Dec. 18 was celebratory as several speakers hailed completion of Arizona’s largest highway project in history.
Even Gila River Indian Community Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis was jubilant as he stood next to Ducey.
Although he did not speak address the crowd, which included members of Pastor’s family, Lewis indicated he had put behind him his community’s bitter three-year court fight to stop the freeway.
Asked by AFN how he felt about the opening despite that fight, Lewis said, “We’re connected – that’s the takeaway of today. You know, we’re connected and it’s about moving forward.”
“What we’re looking at now is the other big issue, the I-10 widening. That 22-mile stretch is the last stretch of the I-10 that’s four lanes it’s the most dangerous in the nation. And so, we’ve have to get that.”
He was referring to the community’s ongoing negotiations with ADOT to widen to six lanes the stretch of I-10 between the Queen Creek Interchange and Casa Grande.
Asked about the Pastor Freeway’s impact on his community, Lewis said it “definitely” would be significant, but declined to elaborate.
The Gila River Indian Community is already getting a significant development directly from ADOT in the form of an additional freeway ramp that will lead right to its Vee Quiva Casino.
That ramp and the freeway interchange at 32nd Street in Ahwatukee will be completed by next July at an additional cost of $1 million each.
Connecting the Chandler and West 59th Avenue interchanges on I-10, the 22-mile, eight-lane Pastor Freeway cost about $1.7 billion.
Ducey and Halikowsky said it could have cost millions more if it had not been for the unique public-private partnership whose design-build approach to the freeway’s construction cut as much as three years off the length of construction.
“ADOT is fortunate for its strong partnerships that have helped guide us in the planning, design, and development phases,” Halikowsky told the crowd. “We’ve had a solid team that helped move this project forward every step of the way.”
Ducey said the freeway symbolized Arizona’s commitment to growth...