The South Mountain Freeway is a twenty-two-mile segment of Arizona Loop 202. The South Mountain Freeway begins at Interstate 10 in Ahwatukee Foothllls and loops back to it near 59th Avenue west of downtown Phoenix in the neighborhood of Estrella Village. The South Mountain Freeway opened to traffic during December 2019 as the newest segment of Arizona Loop 202. The South Mountain Freeway was officially designated the Congressman Ed Pastor Freeway during October 2019. The South Mountain Freeway name references the signature mountain of the same name south of downtown Phoenix. The South Mountain Freeway corridor functionally acts as a bypass of downtown Phoenix.
Part 1; the history of the South Mountain Freeway corridor
Conceptually what is now the South Mountain Freeway was first proposed as "Southern Loop Highway" in 1983. The Southern Loop Highway was approved by Maricopa County voters by way of Proposition 300 in 1985. The Maricopa Association of Governments in 1988 initially proposed the South Mountain Loop Highway following the general corridor of 55th Avenue south from Interstate 10 and turning east along Pecos Road.
During 2001 a Federal Study required the Arizona Department of Transportation to examine the planned alignment of the Southern Loop Highway. The study was deferred to a third party known as the "Citizen's Advisory Team." A study was released by the group in April 2006 which recommended the Southern Loop Highway connect to the western terminus of the Arizona Loop 101 in Tolleson. The group rejected the Pecos Road alignment in favor of pushing the Southern Loop Highway south into the Gila River Reservation. During August 2006 the Arizona Department of Transportation rejected the Citizen's Advisory Team suggestions in favor of an alignment following 59th Avenue and Pecos Road.
During February 2012 the Gila River Reservation held a non-binding referendum favoring a "no build" option regarding South Mountain Freeway. The Gila River Reservation attempted to hold another referendum which would have only a build on Gila River land option or no-build option. This measure was made out of concerns that the South Mountain Freeway would not have any exits onto the Gila River Reservation. This new referendum was rejected by the Gila River Reservation government during July 2013.
During March 2015 despite continued objections the Federal Highway Administration issued a Record of Decision regarding the South Mountain Freeway. The Federal Highway Administration approved the preferred South Mountain Freeway alignment and favored building the corridor. During August 2015 the first houses in Ahwatukee Foothills along the path of the South Mountain Freeway began to be demolished. During February 2016 the Arizona Department of Transportation awarded contracts to construct the South Mountain Freeway.
On October 24, 2019, the South Mountain Freeway was officially designated as the "Congressman Ed Pastor Freeway." The South Mountain Freeway would open as an extension of Arizona Loop 202 on December 21, 2019. The finalization of construction on the South Mountain Freeway came during October 2020.
Part 2; a drive on the South Mountain Freeway segment of Arizona Loop 202
Westbound Arizona Loop 202 in the city of Chandler transitions from the Santan Freeway onto the South Mountain Freeway at Interstate 10. Interstate 10 serves as the boundary for the city limit of Phoenix and the neighborhood of Ahwatukee Foothills.
Arizona Loop 202 westbound Exit 56 accesses 40th Street.
Westbound Arizona Loop 202 Exit 57 accesses 32nd Street.
Westbound Arizona Loop 202 Exit 58 accesses 24th Street.
Westbound Arizona Loop 202 Exit 60 accesses Desert Foothills Parkway.
Westbound Arizona Loop 202 Exit 62 accesses 17th Avenue.
Arizona Loop 202 turns north at the edge of Ahwatukee Foothills and enters an excavated pass on South Mountain. At Exit 66 the Gila River Resorts & Casino Vee Quiva facility can be accessed.
Northbound Arizona Loop 202 Exit 68 accesses Estrella Drive.
Northbound Arizona Loop 202 Exit 69 accesses Elliot Road.
Northbound Arizona Loop 202 Exit 70 accesses Dobbins Road.
Northbound Arizona Loop 202 Exit 71 accesses Baseline Road.
Northbound Arizona Loop 202 Exit accesses Southern Avenue.
Northbound Arizona Loop 202 crosses the Salt River and accesses Broadway Road at Exit 73.
Northbound Arizona Loop 202 Exit 74 accesses Lower Buckeye Road.
Northbound Arizona Loop 202 Exit 76 accesses Buckeye Road whereas Exit 77 accesses Van Buren Street. Arizona Loop 202 terminates at Interstate 10 which is accessible by way of Exit 78A and 78B.
Part 3; the South Mountain Freeway from the air
The photo below was taken from an airplane approaching Sky Harbor International Airport. The view depicts the South Mountain Freeway facing southward over the Salt River towards the Estrella Mountains.