PHOENIX (AP) — Construction of a new Phoenix freeway is entering a new phase.

The Arizona Department of Transportation says crews building the South Mountain Freeway are beginning initial work on a 3-mile (5-kilometer) stretch that will pass through the southwestern edge of South Mountain Park.

ADOT says crews have started identifying and tagging hundreds of plants for removal to temporary storage and eventual replanting along the new freeway.

Exploratory work over the next few months to allow engineers to plan pavement, bridges, walls and drainage structures will set the stage for rock blasting to begin in late spring.

The freeway will provide a link between Chandler and southeast Phoenix on the east and southwest Phoenix on the west and serve as an alternative to Interstate 10 through central Phoenix.