The Arizona Department of Transportation is still putting Mother Nature back in place.
ADOT recently announced that it began two months ago moving more than 1,000 saguaro cactuses, palo verde trees and other native plants that had been removed from the path of the Congressman Ed Pastor Freeway when construction began three years ago.
Meanwhile, the freeway recorded its first fatality and wrong-way driver early Saturday morning.
The Department of Public Safety said the 31-year-old wrong way driver was driving northbound in the southbound lanes in Laveen when it collided with a semi-trailer hauling cars.
The unidentified wrong-way driver was pronounced dead at the scene and a DPS spokesman said, “We have not ruled out impairment on the part of the wrong-way driver.”
Other transplanted vegetation included ironwood and mesquite trees, as well as ocotillo and barrel cactuses, according to ADOT.
That vegetation had been moved to temporary “nurseries,” although residents of the Foothills Reserve community in Ahwatukee have said that some of those plants and trees perished.
It’s unclear how many trees and other native plants may have died in their temporary homes.
“Saguaros and other native vegetation are an important part of the environment and an important part of the visual experience,” said LeRoy Brady, ADOT’s chief landscape architect. “We make a significant effort to retain saguaros of any size because we don’t want to lose those decades of growth.”
These native plants were kept in several locations with the largest irrigated nursery near 27th Avenue and Cedarwood Lane in Ahwatukee, according to an ADOT release.
“ADOT has been salvaging and replanting native species since the 1980s, beginning with a project widening of State Route 87,” the agency said, noting it has done the same thing with Loop 303 construction in the West Valley and the Loop 101 Pima Freeway in Scottsdale.
“We take great pride in maintaining the highway scenery by preserving plants that are part of Arizona’s history,” Brady said. “It also helps promote sustainable practices and contributes to the long-term viability of the desert ecosystem.”