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South Mountain Freeway gets less use than expected in first year

(Arizona Department of Transportation Photo)

PHOENIX – The ambitious Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway was designed to ease Phoenix’s crosstown traffic, but its impact was muted by the coronavirus during its first year, officials said.

Arizona’s largest-ever highway project, with a $1.7 million price tag, added 22 high-speed miles to the Valley’s roadways when it opened on Dec. 21, 2019, after 3½ years of construction.

Around 117,000 vehicles a day were expected to use the South Mountain Freeway in year 1.

But with fewer people commuting during the COVID-19 pandemic, daily usage was only about 60,000 vehicles at the beginning of December, the Arizona Department of Transportation said Monday in a press release commemorating the first anniversary.

ADOT said metro Phoenix freeway traffic had declined by 50% in the middle of the year before bouncing back a bit to 75%-85% of normal usage in recent months.

The South Mountain Freeway, the final piece of the Loop 101 and Loop 202 system, gives drivers a way to get between the East Valley and West Valley while avoiding the congestion of downtown Phoenix.

It loops around the southern and western sides of South Mountain Park and Preserve, connecting with Interstate 10 in two places: in Chandler at the Loop 202 Santan Freeway and in west Phoenix at 59th Avenue.

The final touches weren’t completed until October 2020, when an interchange at 32nd Street and a 6-mile shared-use path opened.

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