In response to the ongoing battle for control over a crucial Sonoran Desert Parkway intersection between Maricopa and the Ak-Chin Indian Community, the city today issued a lengthy statement as it plans to move forward to complete the decade-long project.

The Ak-Chin, whose chairman just last year dubbed the purpose-made parkway “exciting” and a “great opportunity,” cut itself out of the project after lobbing cease-and-desist letters and accusing the city of flouting a federal order.

The city issued the following statement today:

The Pinal Regional Transportation Plan, which was adopted by voters in 2017, included a handful of key projects for Maricopa, including the Sonoran Desert Parkway, originally dubbed the “East-West Corridor.” But work to create this plan began long before that time.

It was, in part, a product of stakeholder and public outreach efforts. The plan was so widely accepted that the citizens of Pinal County voted to place a ½-cent sales tax on themselves to move this and other regional projects forward. While this tax would eventually be overturned by the courts, the need for key Maricopa projects has continued, and the City of Maricopa has continued to move forward the Sonoran Desert Parkway, as a critical component of the Regional Transportation Plan.

The Sonoran Desert Parkway has been in the works for well over a decade. The city won't let Ak-Chin's gripes stymie its completion.[Bryan Mordt]
The Sonoran Desert Parkway has been in the works for well over a decade. The city won’t let Ak-Chin’s gripes stymie its completion.
[Bryan Mordt]
Few may know the history, but the Sonoran Desert Parkway originally aligned with old Farrell Road and would have intersected with John Wayne Parkway at that location. At the request of the Ak-Chin Indian Community, the orientation was later changed to align with the entrance of the Ak-Chin casino. This alignment created new challenges, including additional land acquisition, tiling (piping) the irrigation canal, working with land developers to redesign development plans and much more. Plus, absent the voter-approved funding, the City of Maricopa was solely responsible to finance this $30 million project without debt or tax levies. 

The inception of the Sonoran Desert Parkway project marked a celebrated collaboration involving the City of Maricopa, regional representatives, and the Ak-Chin Indian Community, all of whom have been involved in every step of the process. Notably, Ak-Chin attended the groundbreaking and offered statements of support looking forward to the completion of this much needed transportation corridor.

We are now at the final phase of the project, anxiously awaiting the opening of the Sonoran Desert Parkway. The final piece of the puzzle is to install traffic signals and pedestrian improvements at its intersection with John Wayne Parkway.  

Traffic barracades block north bound traffic from Harrah's Ak-Chin on September 11th, 2023. [Bryan Mordt]
Traffic barracades block north bound traffic from Harrah’s Ak-Chin on September 11th, 2023. [Bryan Mordt]
The City has been unable to move on this final phase due to recent opposition from the Ak-Chin Indian Community. At dispute is the right for the City, State and/or County to encroach on property within the sovereign lands of the Ak-Chin.

The westernmost 50 feet of John Wayne Parkway, along this section of parkway, has been operated as a public highway by the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) since it was built in 1990. In 1990, Pinal County purchased the rights and authority to operate within the Ak-Chin Indian Community from the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs. This purchase, called a Grant of Easement, includes “the right to enter upon the hereinafter described land, for a public highway…. on, over, and under and across the land embraced within the Ak-Chin Indian Reservation, County of Pinal, State of Arizona.” To view the 1990 Grant of Easement document, listing the rights purchased by Pinal County, click here. The County, as the official holder of these rights, has authorized the City to operate in this easement to finalize the intersection work. To view the permits from Pinal County, click here.

Further, ADOT has retained operational authority over SR-347 (John Wayne Parkway) for the past 33 years. To avoid any confusion, the City also received a permit from ADOT to perform the necessary traffic signal work at the intersection. To view the permit from ADOT, click here.

Despite having secured the necessary permissions, inclusive of years of collaboration with the Ak-Chin Indian Community, we respect the concerns raised by Ak-Chin. In the same spirit of cooperation and respect that took us from project inception and now nearing project completion, the City of Maricopa has engaged in efforts to discuss and negotiate with Ak-Chin officials to find a solution. At present, a resolution that satisfies all parties has proven elusive. 

Therefore, considering the City’s ownership of the vast majority of John Wayne Parkway (except that westernmost 50-foot strip), and the overarching obligations to ensure the safety and convenience of our residents and commuters, we are proceeding with a revised configuration of the intersection. Further delays add to both cost and safety concerns. The revised configuration, approved and permitted by the appropriate authorities, will enable us to move forward with the improvements essential to the functionality and safety of both John Wayne Parkway and the new Sonoran Desert Parkway. 

The City of Maricopa remains open to continue dialogue with Ak-Chin and seeks an amicable resolution to this matter. While not ideal, we are confident that the improvements to the Sonoran Desert Parkway will best serve the interests of our community. The original intersection design (with traffic signals) can be implemented at a later date, should the Ak-Chin Indian Community wish to take on this project.