The Arizona Department of Transportation is asking for people to vote for the Loop-202 South Mountain Freeway project in America’s Transportation Awards to help fund $10,000 in scholarships for members of the Gila River Indian Community.
The project is one of 12 finalists in a nationwide contest held by America’s Transportation Awards. It will be judged by online voters as well as experts to determine a People’s Choice Award and a Grand Prize. Both awards come with a $10,000 cash prize to be used for charity or a transportation-related scholarship, according to America’s Transportation Awards’ website.
On Sept. 30, ADOT announced on its website that if it won, the award would fund 10 scholarships for members of the Gila River Indian Community.
“Any kind of financial assistance for our students is helpful,” said Isac Salcido, the Director of Childhood Education for the Gila River Indian Community.
Given the circumstances of COVID-19, this money would be beneficial for helping students do a number of things they now have to do remotely, Salcido said.
With the Gila River Indian Community is located in close proximity of the new freeway, ADOT made sure to include the tribe in conversations regarding planning and building, ADOT Public Information Officer Tom Herrmann said.
“The South Mountain area is special to the tribe . . . so we worked closely with them to make sure what we were doing with the freeway was in line with their feelings for the land,” Herrmann said.
According to Herrmann, this relationship with the tribe throughout the project is its reason for choosing to create scholarships for the community, if the award is won.
“We’re hoping people will vote for the South Mountain Freeway for the People’s Choice Award, not so much for the recognition of the freeway but to create the money for these scholarships,” Herrmann said. “We really can’t find a better use of the money if we were to win.”
While ADOT has been recognized numerous times over the years for different projects, none of them have brought on a $10,000 award, Herrmann said.
“These finalists are credited with making travel across America safer, better, and more accessible to motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians alike,” according to America’s Transportation Awards’ website.
America’s Transportation Awards is specifically recognizing ADOT with the South Mountain Freeway for its innovative use of P3, or Private-Public Partnership, funding.
According to Herrmann, a large project like this would typically be broken down into many smaller projects. However, funding it as a P3 allowed for the entire project to be completed at once since a private partner was able to help finance it. This saved three years of construction and over $100 million in costs.
The South Mountain Freeway is the largest freeway construction project in Arizona history with more than 30 years in the making.
The new freeway cost $1.7 billion ($2 billion including property acquisition) and completed the Loop-202 adding 22 miles of four-lane traffic each way, according to ADOT’s website.
Before the South Mountain Freeway, drivers in the Ahwatukee and Chandler area wanting to head west would have to take the I-10, the deadliest highway in Arizona according to A Secure Life.
Truckers passing through Arizona can now take the South Mountain Freeway instead of the I-10 as well.
“Thank. God.” Reddit user u/RedLightGreenArrow1 posted regarding the creation of the South Mountain Freeway. “The trucks clogging the 10 are just maddening sometimes! I’ve seen them take up every lane as they try to pass each other.”
Now, drivers have more options, Herrmann said.
Votes for America’s Transportation Awards can be cast online once every 24 hours at https://americastransportationawards.org/.
“Online votes will be weighted to each state’s population, allowing for greater competition between states with larger and smaller populations,” according to America’s Transportation Awards’ website.
Voting closes Oct. 25 and winners will be announced during the virtual American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Annual Meeting the week of Nov. 9-13, 2020.