On Wednesday August 27, a group of 20 people from the Gila River Indian Community and Phoenix area gathered to protest the South Mountain Loop 202 freeway proposed by the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), and their decision to open the South Mountain Freeway to Public-Private-Partnership (P3) proposals. A P3 is a business deal between the public sector and a company or companies who take on some combination of design, build, maintain, and finance that makes the project more attainable by allowing the $1.8 billion freeway to be built without ADOT coming up with the funds. The companies benefit from tax-breaks, low-interest loans, and state tax dollars years down the line.
Freeway resistors marched and rallied outside and inside the Maricopa Associations of Governments (MAG) Regional Council and ADOT Priority Planning Committee meetings since both have direct influence in the planning and approval of the freeway project. Resistors held banners that read “Defend the Sacred: Save South Mountain” and “Caution Biohazard: Loop 202″. Members from the Akimel O’odham Youth Collective were in attendance and shared the negative health, environmental and cultural implications that the freeway would bring if built.
Marching down 1st ave. to the MAG building
Demonstrators who spoke at the meeting specifically addressed the inherent racism of ADOT’s decision to double down on the construction of the proposed freeway even after Gila River Indian Community members voted for a “no build” option in an official vote. ADOT’s disregard for the objections of Akimel O’odham people from the Gila River Indian Community, and their democratic process, shows that ADOT is committed to lining developers and construction companies’ pockets, not respecting the decision making of the original inhabitants of this region.
Rallying outside the MAG Building
Two undercover cops were following the group as we left the MAG building. Also three other cops in marked cars were also following us.
“Gila River has said no three times. As recently as 2012 the Gila River Indian Community voted for the No Build option because Moadak (South Mountain) is a sacred site. But MAG and ADOT are still pushing for this freeway with P3’s, which totally undermines tribal sovereignty,” said Andrew Pedro of Sacaton. “No means No.”
With the water shortage cited as one reason, a speaker stated, “We do not need more expansion, especially in the form of new roads, and especially not for the purpose of facilitating international trade freight traffic.”
At the ADOT building
ADOT’s announcement to open up the South Mountain freeway projects to P3 proposals comes before the expected release of the final environmental draft statement (FEIS) this fall. Today’s demonstration is just one of many that both Gila River Indian Community members and Phoenix area residents have held in opposition to the proposed Loop 202 freeway in that past six years.
Multiple speakers stated that if ADOT insists on building the road, freeway resisters will not make it easy for them.
“We are here to show you (ADOT) that we’re not going to make it easy. If it takes being a body in the way of a tractor, so be it”.