ADOT Kids Activity: How would you decorate a freeway?

EDITOR'S NOTE: During this unprecedented time, ADOT is creating transportation activities for kids. Please visit or use the hashtag #ADOTKids on ADOT's Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts to see what we have going on.

By Tom Herrmann / ADOT Communications

The next time you’re riding in the passenger seat or back seat down the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway, or perhaps another freeway closer to you, take a few minutes to gaze out of the window. But don’t look at the mountains or a beautiful sunset. Instead, look at the colorful designs on the bridges, ramps and sound walls. Look at the plants too.

An ADOT team creates designs for a freeway based on either the history or the current use of the land. If you drive over the Salt River on the South Mountain Freeway, you can see images that look like waves of water passing over desert rocks. In the West Valley, the South Mountain Freeway designs are inspired by the area’s agricultural past. In Ahwatukee, the freeway's designs are inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the greatest architects in American history. He once worked in that area.

ADOT also decides which plants and other landscaping accents will help make a highway beautiful. 

The video at right shows you designs and the landscaping along the 22-mile South Mountain Freeway.

But what if those walls, bridges and ramps were blank? What would you draw on them? Would they be animals or saguaros? What plants and colored rock would be in the landscaping? This week's ADOT Kids activity asks you to make those choices and create your own freeway designs.

It isn't just the South Mountain Freeway with neat designs. The new State Route 87 interchange with Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson has designs inspired by cotton grown in that area. In Tucson, sound walls at the new Ajo Way interchange with Interstate 19 have images of mountains and saguaros that speak to that area's landscape. If you need more inspiration, the slideshow at right has images of highway designs around the state. 

Not everyone is fortunate to have beautiful designs on walls and bridges. The first time my dad came to Arizona, he was surprised by images of desert plants on the sound walls that separate the freeway from buildings. Near his home in Ohio, freeway walls are just that: a gray concrete wall with no decoration.

Fortunately, in Arizona we use freeway designs to help tell the story of an area.

For a different perspective on the South Mountain Freeway's design, check out the video at right shot using our drone.

Now, here's this week's activity ...

DRAW YOUR OWN FREEWAY DESIGN AND SEND IT TO US: Make a freeway beautiful using the coloring sheet linked here and posted at bottom right. Or draw your own from scratch. Add your own designs and colors. Pick and locate plants. Will you use decorative rock? All of the choices are up to you.

Next, have an adult take a picture or scan your artwork and send it to us at [email protected]. We'll post every design we receive by 5 p.m. Wednesday, May 13, 2020, in a slideshow that we'll post on this page. We'll also feature it in a special blog post on Friday, May 15. If you get yours to us early, we may feature it on ADOT's Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. Be sure to include your first name (only your first name), your age and the city or town where you live. 

Freeway design activity coloring sheet

SEND US QUESTIONS ABOUT THE SOUTH MOUNTAIN FREEWAY: You must have questions about what it takes to build such a big freeway. Please email them to [email protected] by Monday, May 11, 2020, and we’ll have someone who helped create the South Mountain Freeway answer them in a video. To help you with questions, here some fun facts ...

  • The freeway looks like it’s all concrete, but it includes enough steel rebar weighing 40 million pounds. That's about the same as 3,100 elephants!
  • To build the freeway, we moved enough dirt to fill State Farm Stadium, where the Arizona Cardinals play, six times!
  • We moved more than 1,000 desert plants – saguaros, palo verde trees and more – out of the freeway route and replanted them when the work was finished. Here's a video of how we did that for a project along Loop 101 in Scottsdale
  • Ever heard of a chuckwalla? They’re small lizards that lived on South Mountain. We moved about 120 of them to keep them safe during construction. Here's a video of the relocation.
  • How did the jackrabbit cross the road? There are five crossings under the freeway where people and animals can get safety from one side of the road to the other.