The Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway, also known as the Congressman Ed Pastor Freeway, is now open to traffic, providing a direct link between the East Valley and West Valley and serving as a much-needed alternative to Interstate 10 through downtown Phoenix. The freeway will complete the Loop 202 and Loop 101 freeway system in the Valley and improve the quality of life in a fast-growing region. The freeway opened Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, three days after a grand opening ceremony that featured Governor Doug Ducey, Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) Chair Mark Mitchell, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Arizona Administrator Karla Petty, Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) Director John Halikowski, and other Valley leaders. “Arizona has solidified its reputation as a state that is open for opportunity, and as we welcome hundreds of new residents every day, we are making sure our infrastructure remains some of the best in America,” Governor Ducey said. “This Loop 202 opening represents a big step forward in connecting the East and West Valleys, as well as prioritizing safety for drivers. My thanks to the local, state, tribal, federal and private partners who helped bring this project to fruition ahead of schedule with major cost savings.” Ramp from South Mountain Freeway on the south to I-10 on the west. The South Mountain Freeway travels between Interstate 10 at the Loop 202 Santan Freeway in the East Valley and I-10 at 59th Avenue in the West Valley. Signs at both ends of the freeway carry the honorary designation of Congressman Ed Pastor Freeway, approved this fall by the Arizona State Board on Geographic and Historic Names. The designation recognizes the efforts of the late Arizona Congressman in securing federal funding for the freeway. The freeway is projected to carry about 117,000 vehicles per day within its first year and as many as 190,000 vehicles per day by 2035. “This new freeway will create important new economic opportunities,” said MAG Chair and Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell. “MAG estimates that 55 percent of the population growth and 58 percent of the employment growth will take place in the southeast and the southwest areas of the Valley connected by the South Mountain Freeway corridor.” Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego noted that MAG and its partners have worked tirelessly over 30 years to bring the project to fruition, and she specifically thanked voters for their ongoing support. “Funding was allocated in 1985 and then again in 2004 through voter-approved regional transportation funding known as Prop 300 and Prop 400,” said Mayor Gallego. “The area where we sit now may be part of an even larger corridor with State Route 30. We’re continuing to ask our voters to support our freeway infrastructure and they continue to step up and say, ‘yes we do want to invest in infrastructure in America’s fastest-growing county.’ So we would not be here today without the wisdom of our voters.” FHWA Arizona Administrator Karla Petty added that “the new segment will provide faster and easier access between East Valley and West Valley cities, while making it more convenient for residents to access other parts of the Valley for work, shopping, education and entertainment.” Using an innovative public-private partnership for the state’s largest-ever highway project, ADOT was able to open the 22-mile freeway three years earlier than if it had been built as a series of traditional projects. The agreement also allowed ADOT to deliver the $1.7 billion South Mountain Freeway at a cost savings of more than $100 million. “This is Arizona’s first highway project built using a public-private partnership, which combined design, construction and maintenance in a single contract,” said MAG Executive Director Eric Anderson, who helped shepherd the project through the most extensive environmental review of any highway project to date in Arizona. “It represents the innovative approach needed for large-scale infrastructure projects, and sets a standard of flexibility that can serve as a model as we begin development of our next generation Regional Transportation Plan.” Former MAG Executive Director Dennis Smith also worked on the project since its inception. He credits former and current Regional Council members for sticking with the project through funding and legal challenges and an ever-changing political landscape. “Although we just celebrated the opening of the South Mountain Freeway, in large part it represents the determination of local elected officials to keep a promise that was made to the voters in 1985,” he said. The South Mountain Freeway features three travel lanes and an HOV lane in each direction. Among the freeway’s 15 interchanges are Arizona’s first two using a diverging diamond configuration promoted through FHWA’s Every Day Counts Innovation Initiative to improve traffic flow and safety. The freeway’s 40 bridges include two half-mile spans over the Salt River that have the longest concrete bridge girders—175 feet—ever used in Arizona. Connect 202 Partners, the developer chosen for the project, will maintain the South Mountain Freeway for the next 30 years under the agreement. Connect 202 Partners consists of Fluor Enterprises Inc., Granite Construction Co., and Ames Construction Inc., with Parsons Brinckerhoff Inc. as the lead designer. Connect 202 completed more than 5.5 million hours of work without an incident causing lost time while using more than 120 subcontractors and suppliers. “This freeway is open on an ambitious timeline because of the innovation, creativity and dedication of our teams at ADOT and at Connect 202 Partners,” ADOT Director John Halikowski said. “This monumental achievement will benefit Arizonans for decades to come.” While the freeway is open to traffic, work will continue into 2020 in several areas, including a traffic interchange at 32nd Street, a 6-mile multi-use path between 40th Street and 17th Avenue in Ahwatukee, and landscaping. The 32nd Street interchange was added after the initial design at the request of area residents. The Arizona Department of Transportation contributed to this article.