San Tan Freeway expansion on reservation hotly debated - WNEM TV 5

San Tan Freeway expansion on reservation hotly debated

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PHOENIX (CBS5) -

Should the San Tan Loop 202 be expanded? If so, how? It's a controversial issue that's being hotly debated within the Native American community.

When rush hour is at its peak, nearly 220,000 drivers are on Valley freeways.

"We know that the current transportation options we have in Phoenix today are overloaded," said Arizona Department of Transportation spokesperson Timothy Tait.

ADOT's plan is to expand the San Tan Valley Freeway to the west side, hoping to break ground in 2015.

"That's when the money becomes available," he said.

Eight lanes of highway would be paved along Pecos Road, clipping through homes, a church and even South Mountain. Reservation land just south of the future freeway is off limits. At least for now.

"All this land that you see here which is about 5,500 acres is allotted land. It belongs to individual tribal members," said tribe member Joseph Perez.

Some Gila River Indian Community members and landowners say they have enough signatures to start an initiative to lease this land to the state or negotiate with them so they could somehow use it.

"Their number one priority was saving South Mountain, they wanted to be good neighbors. They knew they could help save homes," said Perez.

He says the freeway would also go past the tribe's Vee Quiva Casino, a potential economic boom for the tribe.

"Money is what they're interested in. The money for themselves," said tribe member Jiivik Siiki with Gila River Against Loop 202.

Other tribe members say the land and mountain are sacred.

We have very little land. Our land used to stretch from Mexico to Prescott, now we just have Gila River which is tiny," said Siiki.

The tribe council spokeswoman sent CBS 5 this statement:

"The GRIC government has followed a careful process to make sure the initiative has enough valid signatures. Ultimately, it will be up to the Tribal Council to decide how to proceed with the ballot measure."

The council will review on Wednesday. The council could either approve it or give it up to a community vote.

Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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