Mesa resident Lonnie Bullock and his grandson, Colin, 9, had a firsthand look last week at the first mile of State Route 24, also known as the Gateway Freeway.
They were among the hundreds of people who attended an April 15 celebration in advance of the freeway opening to the public. Contractors for the Arizona Department of Transportation have constructed freeway-to-freeway traffic interchange ramps from the adjacent Loop 202 Santan Freeway and a mile of SR24 to Ellsworth Road.
Mr. Bullock and his grandson threw a Frisbee across the south lanes of the freeway.
“We just wanted to be able to experience it, to be on the highway when no driving is here,” Mr. Bullock said.
Ed and Lou Sondrol attended freeway openings for the Loop 202 Superstition and Santan freeways and decided to attend the SR24 event.
“We live over here a little ways,” Mr. Sondrol said, gesturing toward Sunland Springs.
He snapped photos from the freeway of the Superstition Mountain.
“We watched this being built for many years. It’s interesting. It’s a pretty road,” Mrs. Sondrol said.
“Yeah, they do make some beautiful roads in Arizona,” Mr. Sondrol said.
ADOT and the city of Mesa hosted the 4-7 p.m. celebration April 15. Vehicles entered the freeway off Ellsworth Road south of Ray Road and parked on the north-side lanes, east of the Loop 202 ramp. From there, people walked or rode bicycles and skateboards up and down the south lanes of the freeway. A band provided music; canopies were set up for information from Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, ADOT and Eastmark; speeches were given by dignitaries including Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, Mesa Mayor Scott Smith and ADOT Director John Halikowski; and a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held.
Construction of the $73 million project began in March 2012. The city of Mesa accelerated the start of construction by several years through a transportation-bonding program, according to the city’s website.
SR24 will next head east from Ellsworth Road to Ironwood Drive south of Apache Junction and north of Queen Creek, according to ADOT’s website. Additional phases of the project have been suspended until a North-South Corridor Study in Pinal County advances, according to the website.
Rep. Doug Coleman (Arizona-District 16), who used to be on the Apache Junction City Council, and Queen Creek Mayor Gail Barney attended the event.
“It connects people, it connects jobs, it connects educational opportunities and will be a huge benefit for this entire area,” Rep. Coleman said of SR24.
“It can do nothing but help our tourism, help our industry, help our residents get in and out of the community a little easier,” Mayor Barney said of SR24 extending to Ironwood Drive. “Any improvement to the roads is just a great improvement to our quality of life,” he said.
Mesa resident Beau Giles attended the event with a unique perspective: he is employed as a land surveyor for Stantec and has worked on the project since January 2013.
“Basically layout location of everything that’s built – grades and everything,” he said of his job. “I thought it was really exciting to be a part of it. It was a big project and will lead to a lot more freeway going through Queen Creek and everything,” he said.
Josh Adam, who lives near Eastmark in Mesa, said at the event that he plans to use SR24 to access Loop 202.
“Checking out the opening of the new addition here,” he said at the event.
Apache Junction residents Wes and Joan Duggan were shaded with large umbrellas as they walked the SR24 freeway at the event. They have attended other road-opening events, including Ray Road and the Loop 202 Red Mountain Freeway.
“We’ve been to the others. Something to do; we’re retired,” Mr. Duggan said.
They tried to walk on the ramp above the Loop 202.
“We were going to go that way, but they won’t let us,” Mr. Duggan said.
“Yeah, they turned everybody down from up there. That’s OK,” Mrs. Duggan said.
Mesa winter visitor Tom Steinmetz attended the event not to walk the freeway but for any freebies.
“I just came out to see what I could get and to see what it looks like. I got two Frisbees and two paper airplanes. My neighbor’s got two grandkids coming in this afternoon so this will be good for them,” Mr. Steinmetz said